Well, that was the inevitable derby hangover.
It honestly shouldn't have mattered. Liverpool, in control even if massively unconvincing, should have earned an insipid, uninspiring 1-0 victory after a first half moment of genius from Suarez and Sturridge at the very least. West Brom successfully swamping the middle of the pitch prevented Liverpool from threatening more, and Liverpool reverted to the second half defensive shell we saw early in the season after taking a narrow lead, unable to get a second goal when Foster brilliantly denied Suarez on the hour mark. And it looked like working, as West Brom created next to nothing from open play and Mignolet made two impressive saves on set play chances from McAuley's header and Brunt's free kick.
But no. Because this.
29 - Liverpool have made more defensive errors leading to a goal/attempt than any other team in the PL this season. Problem.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 2, 2014
Sigh. As if we should be surprised that Liverpool failed to take advantage of both Tottenham and United dropping points yesterday. At least it wasn't what happened at West Brom last season, right? Or what happened against West Brom at Anfield last season for that matter.
The same Liverpool lineup as in the two previous matches, the same formation as in the Merseyside Derby. But the play, and the final result, was much more Villa than Everton. Yep, Liverpool went above and beyond in all areas of the pitch and of play because it was against their city rivals, not because the formation or tactics had finally clicked. Again, quelle surprise.
The first half was all-around ennui aside from the lone goal, starved of chances, the ball trapped in midfield. Gerrard and Skrtel defended well, Sterling was a threatening outlet out wide, but that was pretty much it.
Except for the one moment of brilliance that we've come to expect from Liverpool's strikers. It again started with Sterling, released down the right by Coutinho, charging into the box and keeping possession until Suarez overlapped, with the Uruguayan brilliantly carving out space to cross to Sturridge at the back post, somehow finding room for the left-footed pass despite five defenders between him and his strike partner. Sturridge cleverly held his run until the perfect moment, clearly just onside despite the announcers attempting to make it debatable, tapping in past a stranded Foster.
That was Liverpool's lone shot from inside the box in the first half. Liverpool, who are averaging 8.5 shots inside the box per match. That was the first sign of trouble, but until halftime, it didn't look to be an issue, with West Brom's only frightening moment a Gera shot whistling both high and wide after a giveaway in Liverpool's half. Funny how that works.
But, credit where due, West Brom were a vastly improved side after the break, pushing more men into Liverpool's half, pressing higher up the pitch, preventing Liverpool from getting the early second half goal that'd make the win certain and most likely lead to even more. And that led to the aforementioned set play chances saved by Mignolet, even if little came from open play. Those saves sandwiched the moment where Suarez should have sealed the match, released with an over the top pass, controlling around a helpless Lugano, but denied by an excellent last-ditch Foster kick save.
And then the unthinkable. Liverpool attempting to play out from the back, Mignolet passing to a marginally marked Toure. Toure, under marginal pressure, passing directly to Anichebe rather than a) Mignolet b) Gerrard c) Skrtel or d) hoofing it upfield. Anichebe couldn't have been more open, hammering in a shot from the top of the box with Mignolet scrambling to get back into position. Liverpool have made some incredibly dumb mistakes at the back since Rodgers became manager, most notably two in the two games against Manchester City last season, mistakes which also cost them two points. But today's was almost certainly the dumbest. That's some achievement. Well done, Liverpool.
And then Liverpool were on tilt. There was next to no response, only panic and damage control. Liverpool had exactly one good minute in the 25 following the equalizer, after Allen and Kelly had come on for Coutinho and Flanagan, which shifted the side into a 3-5-2. But Allen's low, off-balance shot went straight at Foster, Toure headed high and wide from a corner, and Kevin Friend ignored two potential penalties: Foster's two-footed block/tackle on Sterling – I don't know why that's legal for keepers when it'd be a red card from any other player – and a debatable handball right afterwards.
And that was about it. Otherwise, haphazard hopeful punts toward Sturridge, Suarez, and Sterling, fouls galore from both sides, a clearly tired Liverpool midfield unable to take any semblance of control. Ugh.
Liverpool remain in pole position for the final Champions League spot despite this setback. It's a better result than either earned against this opposition last season, and not very dissimilar to what West Brom earned against Everton two weeks ago. But both Liverpool's performance and result simply weren't good enough. One step forward swiftly followed by another backward. Liverpool seemingly remain in that pole position for fourth more because of others' failings than their own successes, even if there have been more than a few successes this season.
Let's just hope this provokes the sort of response which led to matches like Tuesday's derby or the other 4-0, 5-0, 4-1 humiliations dealt out earlier this season. Unfortunately, Liverpool's next match isn't against one of the minnows, but an Arsenal side that they haven't beaten since August 2011.