It takes two to tango: Expect a good game on Monday
After two tough away fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester City, Liverpool face West Brom at Anfield next on Monday night. With some of the other games of the weekend seeing Everton play away to Manchester United, Tottenham at home to Newcastle and Arsenal away to Sunderland, picking up three points could well close the gap on fourth place for the Reds.
Tactically, I believe that Brendan Rodgers should play a waiting game and tell his team to pry out openings patiently just as they did against Fulham at home (winning 4-0) and QPR away (winning 3-0) earlier in the season.
West Brom will try to play a quick counter game with Shane Long—who chases down everything—and Romelu Lukaku—who is a powerhouse and not that slow by any sense of the imagination either—presumably leading the line at Anfield on Monday. Liverpool are leaking goals far too regularly and Rodgers will be hoping they can come away unscathed, with a clean sheet from this game.
Liverpool are prone to being picked off on the counter also because Lucas, their holding midfielder, is not as quick as someone such as Javier Mascherano, who used to break up counters for the Reds a few years ago very often with his pace, drive and enthusiasm to get stuck in.
Liverpool have been poor in moving the ball quickly and have lacked cutting edge very often in previous seasons against teams who have come to Anfield for a draw or to nick a win. However, this season Liverpool have found it easier to beat teams that park the bus with patient build-ups with the major problem being overcoming teams in the top half. Despite West Brom being in the top half, it can be safely presumed that they will be happy with a point at the home of the Reds.
West Brom can certainly be expected to be well-drilled defensively and have been so all throughout the season under Steve Clarke. This is why I do not see many goals in the game, and were Liverpool to concede a goal on the counter, it will give the away side more impetus to hold onto the lead just as Oldham were able to in the FA cup recently.
Another reason to not adopt the high tempo pressing approach is that Liverpool have played back to back tough games in the past week and they will further be travelling to Russia for a Europa League encounter on Thursday.
It was all too evident against Arsenal that the Reds can be vulnerable after two-thirds of the game, showing signs of tiredness if they have applied too much effort for the initial parts of the game to get off to a good start.
West Brom will not pose the same threat as Arsenal and if Liverpool have the lead they will be expected to prevail. But if West Brom have the lead then Liverpool defenders will become more vulnerable to being exposed to the pace, power and tenacity of the duo of Long and Lukaku later in the game if they emphasize too much on closing down and getting back possession early on in the game.
Rodgers should thus play to his team’s strength of being technical and retaining possession. It shall only bode well for the midweek game in Russia where a more European style of football may help the Reds to set themselves up for a doable task in the second leg.
Feel free to opine in the comments section.