26 October 2013

Liverpool 4-1 West Brom

Suarez 12' 18' 55'
Morrison 66' pen
Sturridge 77'

Liverpool with a midfield is better than Liverpool without a midfield and Luis Suarez is pretty good at football.

There are some days where Luis Suarez is simply unstoppable, wholly irrepressible, and Liverpool will never lose on those days. This one was of those days. But it can't be coincidence that Liverpool's best performance, most cohesive performance, the first time Liverpool strung two good halves of football together, came with a different midfield in both shape and personnel. Lucas replaced Moses, and Rodgers retained three at the back, but inverted the midfield triangle, with both Henderson and Gerrard ahead of the returning Brazilian, more a 3-1-4-2 than the 3-4-1-2 we've seen.

This never looked like last season's Liverpool-West Brom contests. But that had as much to do, if not more, with Suarez's mercilessness than Liverpool's shape. Liverpool wasted chances in both matches against Albion last season, and paid dearly for it. Suarez made certain that wouldn't be the case today with a superb individual goal within 12 minutes, tearing past Ridgewell before hilariously nutmegging Olsson, placing his shot past Myhill before Olsson even recovered his balance and realized Suarez was past him.

Six minutes later, it was that man again, with an even better strike. Quick Liverpool build-up, Cissokho's deflected cross, and an unconscionable bullet header from 18 yards out. The best header I've seen since Luis Garcia's heyday; I still have no idea how he got that power and placement when that far from goal. 2-0 is rarely game over, but with how dominant Liverpool were, it seemed pretty much was game over, and like in last season's heartening routs, a matter of how many Liverpool would tally. West Brom didn't threaten until first half injury time, when a long ball over the top to Anelka caught Skrtel out of position, but the Slovakian quickly recovered to clear off the line after Anelka had gotten around Mignolet.

And 10 minutes after the interval, the magician got his hat-trick, his fourth hat-trick in the last 18 months and first at Anfield. There have been 16 Premier League hat-tricks since Suarez's first against Norwich. Only van Persie has two, everyone else one. Luis Suarez has four. Tell me again that there's a better striker in the Premier League.

Today's came from a sumptuous Gerrard free kick, and free header conceded by a usually diligent West Brom defense. Had you told me before the match that Suarez would have a hat-trick, I'd have gleefully believed you. But had you added that two of those goals came from headers, I'd have called you a liar and probably kicked you in the shins. Those two headed goals are only the ninth and tenth headers he's scored of his 54 goals since coming to Liverpool.

Not long after, Sturridge had two excellent opportunities to extend the lead, first ballooning Johnson's well-placed low cross, then cannoning a shot off the crossbar with West Brom's defense terrified and retreating. But 10 minutes after Suarez's third came West Brom's nonsensical, baffling consolation. As has become usual, Liverpool were content to sit deeper with an unassailable lead, ready to counter at any opportunity. Sakho allowed right-back Jones to run at Liverpool's defense after a throw-in, and it appeared that Lucas and Cissokho combined to muscle him off the ball after entering the box. I'm still not sure whether Lucas or Cissokho committed the penalty, and I doubt Jon Moss is either. Moss took an egregious amount of time to give the decision, seemingly unsure whether to overrule his wildly flagging assistant because he was in a better position before finally going with the flow. That penalty's not given if it's a close game. But that penalty's not given by competent officials no matter the scoreless.

Regardless, substitute Morrison stepped to the spot, sending Mignolet the wrong way. And, knocked back, West Brom took the game to Liverpool for the first time in the match, aided by bringing on Brunt and Long for Yacob and Anelka, with Brunt spurning two quasi-decent chances in the subsequent minutes.

Thankfully, it didn't take long for Liverpool to reassert themselves, with Sturridge finally grabbing a deserved goal, a strike worthy of the previous terrific three: picking up possession after effective Liverpool pressure in the middle of the pitch, charging at the retreating back line, then unbelievably chipping Myhill from 20 yards out when everyone else expected a pass. Marvelous. And a continuation of his amazing season-long streak. For the tenth straight match, when Liverpool score, Sturridge scores.

Back to game over, the final 15 minutes highlighted by what would have been the goal of the match filled with amazing goals, when Myhill somehow denied Suarez bicycle kick, tipping the close-range acrobatics onto the bar after the striker somehow controlled the second ball from Gerrard's deep cross. Allen and Luis Alberto subsequently replaced Gerrard and Suarez as Liverpool coasted home.

That's what we needed to see. Suarez at his world-conquering best, coupled with a vastly improved team performance. Liverpool finally impressed for the full 90 minutes rather than retreating into its shell after taking the lead. Henderson and Gerrard ahead of Lucas made Liverpool a much better side, and Liverpool subsequently had its highest pass accuracy of the season. Sturridge and Suarez are currently the top-scorers in the league, although Suarez is tied for second with Agüero, with eight and six goals respectively.

The only lowlights were Johnson's knock, although he played on before being replaced by Kelly in the 62nd minute, and Cissokho slightly below par. Skrtel also Skrtel-ed at times; the chance in first half injury time summed him up perfectly: out of position to allow Anelka in but recovering to excellently clear off the line, then nearly committing a penalty on the subsequent corner. He's played well this season, but there are always mistakes in his game; it's why I've been so vehement in calling for Agger's return. Kelly also looked a weak link, although that shouldn't be surprising when he's making his first league start in nearly a year. And Cissokho gets a reprieve for similar reasons; for all Enrique's faults, we can't expect Cissokho to equal or better his performances immediately. As much as Liverpool needed a clean sheet for confidence, I can hardly fault today's unfathomable concession.

Otherwise, this was exactly what was needed: cohesive and dominant in the middle of the pitch, ruthless at the pointy end of it. It comes at exactly the right time too, before the trip to league leaders Arsenal in a week's time.


Anonymous said...

Liverpool seem to suffer after international breaks and set piece defending. Fix those two issues and we'd win the league. How we fix those two I have no idea.

Josh K. said...

I can't wait to see your visualized infographic on this game, especially the stats on Lucas' performance. Seemed so fresh after a game off. Spot on about the midfield switch. It allowed us to press from the front and gave Gerrard to get caught out attacking because Henderson can cover for him by running and Lucas cleaning up everything else, slowing attacks, directing attacks into dead ends, and make a number of incisive passes.

Nice of you to give Cissokho a pass. He certainly seems off the wavelength of the rest of the team-I'm not sure how he's not galloping into the space West Brom were giving him with 3 behind him. That, however, can be corrected. What can't be corrected before he returns to Valencia is his inability to beat anyone with skill or pace and his apparently non-existent right foot. Anyway, despite Enrique's frailties, I think he brings more to the pitch than Cissokho at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Man that felt good. The enigma that was Steve Clarke was solved. The surety that this team was not capable of playing for the full 90 was put in doubt. And that invisible midfield actually showed up. A pretty decent tri-fecta. My only wish would have been for Sturridge's thumper to have been 6 inches lower. The Anfield roof would have well and truly come off. I like his no run up hop step DK crackers. Those are fun to watch.

Hope the boys can remember the locker combination next week at Arse when the pressure is on.

Had a laugh when the commentator said "Skrtel will kick a ball for you". The real test for that back line is next Saturday night.

suley said...

We still seem so so shaky at the back. Both on set pieces and in open play. It was a miracle we didnt concede from open play in this game.

And what is up with Mignolet these past few games. Definitely seems a lot less assured than his first few games.

However, loved the midfield in this game and what can you say about Suarridge? Nothing... just watch in awe... I really hate that suarez will most likely leave us come end of season...

Anyways on to next week it is. This game is going be terrifying for our defence me thinks.

Stephen said...

A good MF performance for sure but West Brom did not press at all. Despite being 2 down most of the match, they sat back...allowing our MF loads of time to exploit opptys. Will not happen next week...Ozil/Cazorla/Wilshere/Ramseyet al will provide a true read on our MF.

JonnyS said...

Exactly Stephen.
the big teams won't obediently fall back and not press or pass.

Hendo will run around but Arse will just pass around him. Gerrard won't have the puff to do it.
Unfortunately, no CL game for Arse to get shagged out prior to the weekend, only league cup games for the kids.

gonna be a tough game next saturday.