29 October 2011

Liverpool 2-0 West Brom

Goals:
Adam 9' (pen)
Carroll 45+1'

A thorough, comfortable win, never in doubt after notching a second on the stroke of halftime, a clean sheet easily kept away from Anfield.

Had Liverpool scored so early in their last league match, converting just one of the chances from their fast start, we could have seen a similar result. Typically, Suarez was the vital epicenter, teeing up Adam's 2nd-minute opportunity before winning the 7th-minute spot kick somewhat fortuitously. The penalty itself – Thomas barging a spinning Suarez near the edge of the area – wasn't so fortuitous; we've all seen similar shoulder challenges both ignored and given. What was fortuitous was that the linesman correctly feverishly flagged, forcing a reticent Lee Mason to award the foul. In contrast to the pervasive, malignant narrative, Suarez wasn't looking for it, neither rolling around nor gesturing wildly. Adam, Liverpool's third different penalty-taker of 2011-12, notched the first of the season by sending Foster the wrong way.

Liverpool remained on top, clearly stronger, but weren't creating the chances spurned in the last match, which isn't necessarily surprising when away and up against a Hodgson side at home. Other than Suarez's one clear-cut opening, ballooned over when leaning back for Skrtel's center from a corner, the best opportunities of the half until Carroll's crucial second came on subsequent penalty shouts that Mason didn't call: a clear handball on Carroll's on-goal header from Suarez's early cross and a rugby tackle on a corner that somehow became a foul on Carroll.

But right before the interval, after "suffering" a spell of West Brom pressure, Liverpool got that crucial second at arguably the best possible time. Lucas nipped in to steal possession and immediately found Suarez at full sprint, and the Uruguayan deftly hit his long pass first-time into space for Carroll to run onto. The big striker's first touch looked to take it away from him, but he quickly regrouped to smartly toe-poke under the despairing Foster with his stronger foot. A back-breaking goal, giving West Brom 15 minutes to wonder how they were going to come back from a two-goal deficit when they had less than 40% of the possession and zero shots on goal.

The lone surprise after the restart was that Liverpool failed to widen the gap during another impressive spell to begin the half. Suarez and Carroll continued to combine brilliantly, the best we've seen from the pairing, but neither Henderson nor Carroll could smartly connect with shots after West Brom's defense had been sliced open, while Suarez chipped onto the roof of the net after brilliantly creating space for himself and Olsson importantly blocked Suarez's blast after good work from Enrique and Carroll.

The final 25 minutes, with both Liverpool and West Brom on cruise control in opposite directions, saw sporadic opportunities for Liverpool – Carroll shots saved and wide, Downing's 90th minute effort off the post – with even fewer for West Brom. Bellamy, replacing the irrepressible Suarez with ten to play, was Liverpool's lone substitution as the team hummed along unthreatened.

West Brom weren't especially terrible, simply unambitious. It's somewhat distasteful to return to the scene of the crime to further beat the same dead horse into submission, but Liverpool fans will remember more than a few analogous performances during Hodgson's tenure. Admittedly, most came on the road – at Everton and City the closest comparisons – but West Brom similarly conceded an early goal, similarly 'battled back' to almost but not quite make a game of it, but then conceded the second and never looked like coming back.

There's little to complain about after such an assiduous victory. Most pleasing was how well Suarez and Carroll harmonized. Neither had their best game – although Carroll wasn't far off his City apex while Suarez remains singularly important – but it was the best they've looked together by some distance. Lucas also again demonstrated his importance; Liverpool controlled play, set the tempo, and protected the back-line far better than against Norwich. And with Carragher still sidelined by Wednesday's calf injury, we finally got to see Skrtel and Agger in the league. And weren't disappointed. They, along with the full-backs, barely put a foot wrong. Incidentally, all three of Liverpool's clean sheets – against Arsenal, Everton, and West Brom – have come away from Anfield. This was the first without the opposition reduced to ten men.

As against Stoke, another win and further progress. An excellent team display with few disappointing individual performances. A clean sheet victory away from Anfield should never be downplayed, no matter the opposition. That Liverpool were so comfortable, and that it's such guilty schadenfreude to win so convincingly when facing the previous manager, can't overshadow the team continuing to coalesce and impress.

1 comment:

Marlon said...

Is it just me or does Skrtel look way better when playing alongside Agger? Does he just play better on the right side of defense or is it easier to play with Danny than Carra?