Liverpool vs. West Brom: 6 Things We Learned
Yet another result that will leave loyal Kopites wanting more, Liverpool surrendered three points to an out-of-form West Brom outfit, slipping off the pace in their bid for a top-six revival.
Brendan Rodgers’ side maintained a firm grip on matters for the majority of the encounter but were ultimately helpless in their efforts, eventually letting in two late goals to result in a 2-0 loss.
After such a disappointing outcome, Liverpool will undoubtedly have a host of points to take away from their clash with the Baggies, most of which would point towards ways in which they might improve.
Both now competing for similar Premier League honours, the two sides will need to take note of their respective performances if they’re to react as desired in the coming months.
1. Liverpool Still Frozen When on the Big Stage
Currently in the process of trying to revive the Liverpool of old, one thing that will prove key in the club’s bid to get back to English dominance will be the ability to overcome the teams battling for similar bragging rights.
As things stand, the pursuit of such pride would still appear to be a long way off considering the Reds have yet to beat even one of the clubs making up the rest of the Premier League’s top 10 this season so far.
Rodgers’ men have struggled when faced with the challenge of stronger competition and have drawn seven and lost seven of their 14 games against the other nine teams currently making up the top half of the table.
It’s all well and good winning against the likes of Norwich City, Southampton and Reading, but unless a side can really halt the progress of those around them, the benefits of any points accumulated will be harder to notice.
2. Roster Ranks Remain Deep for the Albion
One of the most common attributes belonging to any outfit that can maintain a certain standard season long is being able to call upon reserves in those latter, lingering phases of a harsh and unrelenting campaign.
Although the Baggies don’t have much in terms of true, superstar talent, Steve Clarke has crafted a squad boasting an above-average quality across the board; a sentiment which transcends the starting XI and onto the team’s bench.
Against Liverpool, Clarke was able to call upon the likes of Marc-Antoine Fortune and Romelu Lukaku, both of whom did a job in attack after coming on in the second half.
Along with the forward duo, it’s understated assets such as James Morrison, Chris Brunt, Youssuf Mulumbu and numerous others that get on with their jobs, providing a reliable and assured approach.
Although the Baggies have dropped off the pace after a sour Christmas patch, their season’s surprising finish could rest on small giants like those above remaining fit.
3. Gerrard's Influence Can’t Be Understated
A Liverpool servant of more than 20 years, it’s of little surprise that a club legend such as Steven Gerrard has a substantial impact on the performance levels of those around him.
Just as a leader’s rise in morale can often rub off on his teammates, however, the same goes for the opposite. When the captain of your side sees a dip in intent, it tends to affect the rest of the side in kind.
A massive turning point in the loss to West Brom was Ben Foster’s penalty save that saw Gerrard denied from 12 yards, just minutes before the visitors capitalised to wrap up their eventual 2-0 win.
Although the result perhaps can’t be pinned on just the one moment and outcome, it’s important to note that once their captain’s head had dipped, the rest of the Reds' resolve seemed to be sapped substantially.
Without a light to lead them through the gloom, Liverpool could suffer without Gerrard’s encouraging presence, something that is proven to benefit the club through some of their most recent moments of greatness.
4. Steve Clarke Resurrects Tactical Malleability
With five fixtures played against Merseyside clubs since taking over as West Brom boss in the summer, Steve Clarke holds a particularly good record against Liverpool clubs, winning three and losing two.
Having beaten the Reds on the opening day of the season in a 3-0 thrashing, Clarke’s men began the campaign with a bang, showing their capacity for neat, attacking football in a free-flowing atmosphere.
In the reverse fixture at Anfield, it was evident that the Scotsman had adopted a completely different approach for his side’s February trip, seeing great joy in the counterattacking formation adopted.
Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob were absolutely essential in helping to absorb the onslaught of pressure thrown forward by their hosts. While it meant almost 90 minutes of working hard off the ball, the submissive style ultimately paid dividends.
With the resources available to him, Clarke has shown great versatility in changing his tactics on a game-by-game basis, which once again became evident in the Anfield result.
While he might not get it right every time, Clarke‘s debut campaign as a Premier League manager bodes well for the future in terms of adaptability.
5. Reds’ Chance Conversion Among Worst in the League
According to WhoScored.com, Liverpool had 25 shots on target against West Brom, seeing just seven find their way to the target, including a saved penalty.
In comparison, 2-0 victors West Brom managed to finish with a shot-on-target conversion rate of 66 percent, scoring twice from just three shots that found their way toward goal.
In this scenario, less certainly turned out to be more for the Albion and for all their pressure, the Reds just couldn’t capitalise on a wealth of chances created.
For Liverpool fans, such news is becoming all too regular an occurrence, and it will be of little comfort that the club’s record of hitting the crossbar 33 times last season (via EPLIndex.com) is some way off being beaten by a tally of just 11 in the current campaign.
Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard all had their fair share of opportunity against West Brom, and whether it’s down to a lack of confidence or another plague to their game, Liverpool’s form in front of goal was far from clinical, albeit largely due to the work of Ben Foster.
6. Romelu Lukaku Living Up to His Billing
Upon arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2011 for a fee of around £18 million, a heap of pressure was mounted upon the shoulders of Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, seen as an eventual Didier Drogba replacement by some.
The 19-year-old has made just eight Premier League appearances for his parent club since moving to west London 18 months ago but is benefitting massively from his loan spell in less pressured surroundings.
A greater chance at first-team football has been monumental for Lukaku in terms of player development, giving the striker an opening to flourish as part of a smaller outfit.
Eventually, the Blues will expect much from their teenage prodigy, especially considering that only Fernando Torres and Demba Ba account for the striking competition as things stand.
Against Liverpool, Lukaku had just a 15-minute cameo in which to impress but managed to threaten the Reds defence significantly, doubling the amount of shots had by any of his teammates despite featuring for a fraction of the time.
So often have we seen big money put toward the signature of an incredibly promising talent only to see the character fall from grace quite spectacularly.
At the Hawthorns, Lukaku is quietly getting along with his growth as a man as well as a player and, with nine Premier League goals in just 11 starts, looks to be reaching the heights expected of him by so many.