West Bromwich Albion 0 – Liverpool 1: Match Review

Let’s be honest, we all thought this was our banana slip moment; the point at which the Reds would stumble and open the door for Arsenal and Manchester United rather than pull away from them. Certainly the fact that we’ve failed to win against a Tony Pulis side away from home before today didn’t help anyone’s nerves. The turnaround against Stoke felt like a big moment, so could we carry on our decent run of form, or would Pulis once again build a wall that we simply couldn’t get over?

Technically Manchester United could find themselves level on points with us if they win all of their games in hand. Had we lost today they’d actually have been able to overtake us. Yet one of their games in hand is against Chelsea and the other Manchester City, so with the Red Devils progressing so well in the Europa League and José Mourinho likely spying that as his side’s best route into the Champions League, the one thing we couldn’t do was give them any hope. Likewise the wheels finally feel like they’ve come off for Arsene Wenger’s 4th-place-grabbing Arsenal side. So what were the talking points from today?

Have We Finally Learnt Our Lesson?

Whisper it, but Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp seem to have figured out they need to dig in and play long-ball teams at their own game. Admittedly there isn’t a huge amount of evidence to support this theory, but I’m not sure anyone fancied Stoke and then West Brom away one after the other. They are the footballing equivalent to kryptonite for this Liverpool side, sticking big men on the goalkeeper and throwing in as many free-kicks and corners at us as they can. It’s ironic that the only goal we’ve conceded over the two games game from a decent bit of counter-attacking football from Stoke. It’s equally ironic that our goal today came from a free-kick.

When James Milner took a free-kick from roughly the same position as the goal moments before we scored, I was reasonably convinced that it was just one of Milner’s dreadful free-kicks. That he hit virtually the same ball the second time, combined with the fact that the Reds have been working on free-kicks all week, suggests that it was actually a deliberate ploy to get past West Brom’s wall of groks. It was a pleasure to see that we weren’t quite as stupid on the ball as we have been in recent times. No flinging crosses in from the side; no constantly playing for corners or free-kicks that we were never going to score. Instead we opted for sensible play, taking our time in the build-up and not trying to force the issue.

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Intelligent play isn’t something that we’ve been all that good at at times this season. Too often we’ve played right into the opposition’s hands, making idiotic choices when we’ve had more time. That Klopp spent time this week working on set-pieces makes my heart sing, even if the skeptical voice at the back of my head asks why we haven’t done that more often. We need to be far more canny in such situations as the ones we’ve found ourselves in over the last two weeks and it’s great to see us come out of two tricky games with maximum points. Tony Pulis sides tend to put their flip-flops on once they’ve hit forty points, yet the fact that he dislikes Liverpool so much means they’re always up for the fight against us. For that reason it was great to get one over on us.

The question is can we learn from our success in the last two games? This season we would unquestionably have been challenging Chelsea at the top of the league but for our performances against the lesser teams in the league. If we can go into next season having gleaned some decent information about how to deal with alehouse teams managed by the likes of Tony Pulis then we’ll have a good shot at being in amongst it at the business end of next season. It’s worth bearing in mind that only Chelsea’s insane form has stopped us being part of the conversation this time around, so another couple of wins against bottom ten teams and the holy grail might finally return to Anfield in the not too distant future.

There’s A Div In Our Team, But His Name’s Not Origi

Definition – Div: Scouse word for ‘idiot’.

Moreno. Dimwit.

When people call Divock Origi ‘Big Div’ it’s an affectionate term, playing on the notion that it is referring to someone as a fool or idiot. It is never used in a derogatory manner, never intended to be critical. When you start talking about Alberto Moreno, however, the term ‘div’ is meant in its classical sense. The Spaniard is seen by some as the answer to the fact that we don’t always look as attacking as we could down the left-hand side. Those people have evidently forgotten the fact that he has no brain. It’s almost to the extent that I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a surgeon cut into his head and found it contained nothing but dust and a picture of his dog riding a scooter.

Let’s be clear about this, it wasn’t just his decision to have a shot at an open goal that wound me up. It was the fact that he had two players significantly better than him in Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge in better positions either side of him, yet he decided to go for glory. We could easily have finished that match drawing one all and if we had then Moreno should have been taken outside and flogged. He is an idiotic player that can’t be moved on from the club soon enough. He might be quick, but his decision making is legitimately abysmal. I spoke earlier about being frustrated with having to watch us make stupid decisions and Moreno is the physical manifestation of all of that. Sell him, Jürgen, and don’t look back.

Defensive Consistency Is Vital To Success

Jürgen Klopp knew heading into this season that our goalkeeper wasn’t good enough and that our defence needed bolstering. He brought in Loris Karius to deal with the goalkeeping problem, but sadly a broken finger combined with a rough start to life in England meant that he wasn’t able to hit the ground running in the same manner. Klopp also brought in Joel Matip as a new first-choice centre-back and Ragnar Klavan as a third-choice option. Unfortunately there have been issues with both Matip and Dejan Lovren that have resulted in Klavan starting more games than anyone would have hoped for.

Yet when Matip and Lovren have been able to start together they’ve done exactly what you’d want them to do. They’ve appeared in fourteen league games together we’re unbeaten in those matches. We’ve managed six draws and eight wins during that time, which means 30 of our 66 points have come through their defensive partnership. The question is, can Klopp get them fit enough to last a season? Lovren was terrible at times today, smashing the ball out of play under no pressure whatsoever on at least two occasions. In truth, though, suggestions that he’s significantly worse than Mamadou Sakho are wide of the mark. One person told me this week Lovren is a Championship player, which is clearly nonsense.

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Rumours that we’re making Virgil Van Dijk our number one target this summer sound really good to me. I would be delighted to see him playing alongside Matip as our first-choice centre-back pairing with Lovren dropping to number three and Klavan to number four. Everyone shifting down a place would allow us to look a much stronger side and cope with the extra demand of Champions League football, should we continue on our current trajectory and finish in the top four. Upgrading our defence and our goalkeeper will allow us to challenge for the title, with problems against lower sides being out issue too often as I’ve said before. Yet perhaps even more important than buying new players is getting them on the pitch consistently.

Of course our defenders aren’t the only players that have struggled for fitness. We’ve won these last two games without the club captain, Jordan Henderson, and our midfield stalwart Adam Lallana. At various times we’ve also been without Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and, sadly perpetual sick note, Daniel Sturridge. Yet it’s at the back where the most damage through injury has been done, with defenders desperately needing to get an understanding with each other in order to deal with second balls and the like.

When Matt Phillips broke through our lines towards the end of the game, Matip had stepped up to try and beat Solomon Rondon to the ball and failed, but Lovren was out of position and then was too slow to react. Thankfully Mignolet was there to mop up and we walked away with all three points. That was a perfect example of what happens when defenders aren’t on the same wavelength, however, and the best way that they’re able to get on the same wavelength is by playing together consistently. One of the biggest questions is whether the players have been getting injuries because of Klopp’s sometimes controversial training methods, or whether it’s just been one of those seasons.

If it’s the former then there’s not a lot we can do, considering that the manager is unlikely to change his methods any time soon. He might also point to the fact that we’re now unbeaten in our last seven, winning five of them as proof that, even towards the end of the season, we’re fit enough to win at the business end of the season. The proof of the pudding will be in the off-season transfer activity, though, so we’ll have to wait and see the road Klopp decides to go down. For now, we’ve won away to a Tony Pulis side and it’s time to celebrate the victory. Three points closer to the Champions League…

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