09 February 2013

Liverpool v West Brom 02.11.13

3pm ET, live in the US on espn2

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 09.26.12
0-3 West Brom (a) 08.18.12
0-1 West Brom (h) 04.22.12
2-0 Liverpool (a) 10.29.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 City (a); 2-2 Arsenal (a); 2-3 Oldham (a)
WBA: 0-1 Spurs (h); 1-2 Everton (a); 2-2 Villa (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 17; Gerrard 6; Sturridge 3; Agger, Henderson, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Cole, Downing, Enrique, Johnson, Şahin 1
WBA: Lukaku 9; Long 6; Odemwingie 5; Gera 4; Morrison 3; Brunt 2; Fortune, McAuley, Mulumbu 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Downing Suarez Henderson
Borini

For once, it might not be a bad thing to have a match on Monday. This is Liverpool's first Monday match of the season, but they failed to win all three last season: home draws against Blackburn and Spurs, an away loss at Fulham. Admittedly, they make me nervous. However, this week, it's extra rest after an unnecessary international break, which Gerrard, Agger, Johnson, and Suarez will need, and allows the likes of Sturridge and Sterling more time to overcome recent knocks.

Maybe I'm just pessimistic, but Rodgers' assessment of Sturridge makes me think he's doubtful, while Sterling should be available. Coutinho is almost assuredly not ready to start, if he even makes the squad. If Sturridge isn't fit, will Rodgers replace him with Borini in a straight swap, keeping the same formation used against Manchester City and Norwich, or use Borini or Sterling on the flanks with Henderson as the most advanced central midfielder? How important is it to keep Suarez as the #10?

Maybe I'm just curious to see if it'd work, but I think I'd prefer if Borini was an out-and-out replacement for Sturridge, if need be. Rodgers got the best out of Borini as a central striker for Swansea, and this formation has worked well in recent matches, despite the horrific stutter at Oldham, especially compared to Liverpool's attacking fluency at Arsenal. Neither Steven Reid nor Billy Jones – whoever starts for West Brom at right-back – are likely to get forward often, which would require Henderson to spend much more time defending on the left, while Graham Dorrans, who'll play as West Brom's right midfielder, often likes to come inside. This formation should again give Henderson free reign, continuing in his excellent form, and Enrique should have acres of space to bomb up and down the left. Borini's finishing has been nowhere near Sturridge's so far this season, but his clever movement should similarly open up space for Suarez. But, it goes without saying, it'd be even better if Sturridge were available.

Otherwise, the rest of the positions pretty much pick themselves. Gerrard and Lucas will be the deeper midfielders, Johnson and Enrique will be the fullbacks, and Carragher's likely to keep his starting place ahead of Skrtel.

West Brom currently have the worst form in the league. They're winless in eight, last beating QPR on Boxing Day. But Aston Villa were also amidst a terrible run before beating Liverpool at Anfield. As were Oldham. All too often, form doesn't mean very much against Liverpool.

West Brom were excellent on the counter-attack in the last meeting, primarily through Shane Long then Romelu Lukaku, holding Liverpool at bay then scoring through Gera against the run of play, then forcing a red card and two penalties through lightning breaks. And then there was Lukaku against Carragher, albeit with Liverpool already down to ten men and behind by two, easily eluding the veteran to head in the third.

Both Long and Lukaku started in West Brom's last match, a 0-1 loss to Tottenham, but that's been the exception rather than the rule. Still, I doubt that Liverpool's deficiencies against two counter-attacking strikers – again, see the 1-3 loss to Aston Villa, as well as the 1-3 loss at Stoke – have eluded Steve Clarke's notice.

If that's the case, James Morrison will probably start on the left rather than his usual position behind a lone striker. If not, West Brom's line-up will probably be Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Brunt, Yacob; Dorrans, Morrison, Thomas; Long/Lukaku. Popov is suspended after stupidly spitting at Kyle Walker against Tottenham, while Thorne and Gera are both out with long-term knee injuries. Youssouf Mulumbu is also doubtful with a knee problem. Odemwingie's back in training after his punishment for deadline day shenanigans, but I'd be surprised if Clarke brought him back into the fold so soon. Which is fine by me, as he's scored in West Brom's last two wins over Liverpool, and won both penalties in West Brom's 2-1 win in April 2011.

Having made it over the hump with draws at Arsenal and Manchester City, Liverpool's schedule eases for the final 13 matches. There are only five fixtures against the current top 10, all at Anfield, including this one. Still, Liverpool will have to be on their guard to prevent a post-internationals Monday hangover, and both the previous league meeting and last year's match at Anfield readily demonstrate the threat West Brom can pose.

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