04 October 2014

Liverpool 2-1 West Brom

Lallana 45'
Berahino 56' (pen)
Henderson 61'

Goodbye and good riddance, September.

It certainly wasn't pretty. It was better, but still featured some of the same lingering problems. But it was enough, and enough is more than sufficient after the month we've suffered through.

For 44 minutes, it was the same attacking issues despite the change in both formation and personnel. Liverpool's midfield looked far better, much more in control with Henderson and Coutinho ahead of Gerrard. And for the most part, Liverpool's defense was untroubled. But the attack, with Lambert instead of Balotelli and Sterling still off-color and seemingly fatigued, continued to struggle, unable to conjure dangerous chances despite good work from Lallana, Henderson, and Coutinho; the creators trying to create but the scorers unable to strike.

So Lallana and Henderson took it upon themselves, capping off a flowing move involving every Liverpool player except Sterling with an intricate one-two just inside the box, Lallana dancing through defenders, Henderson's back-heel, Lallana's narrow angle finish with his weaker foot.

Just what Liverpool needed, right? A platform to build on, a goal to push them out of the current malaise.

Not quite. It was a goal that put them ahead for barely ten minutes before West Brom equalized from the penalty spot.

To be fair, it was never a penalty. It was a sloppy pass from Manquillo which directly led to West Brom's counter through an open Liverpool. It was certainly a foul, as Berahino got in front of Lovren way too easily after Sessegnon sprinted past Lallana and Manquillo, both out of position after the giveaway, and Gerrard and Skrtel were sucked over to try to cover. But it was a foul which took place outside the box, with Michael Oliver perfectly placed to see where the foul occurred yet still pointing to the penalty spot. And, of course, Berahino made absolutely no mistake with his effort.

Just Liverpool's luck.

But maybe this is a new month, because Liverpool were level for less than five minutes.

Maybe West Brom's equalizer just came too early. But Liverpool confidently pushed on from the setback, looking to make immediate amends, and with the time to do it: Liverpool's free kick in a dangerous position cleared, then Lambert firing over in space in the box. Then, after some sustained possession, Gerrard's cross-field ball found an open Manquillo, whose attempted center fortunately fell to Sterling. Oliver had an opportunity to level the penalty count when Gardner leveled the winger. But Sterling played on – we'll give Oliver the benefit of doubt and say that he played advantage, even though he probably was going to swallow his whistle – got back up and centered for an open Henderson, his shot perfectly passed between three West Brom defenders into the net.

Now, could Liverpool hold on for half an hour?

Actually, surprisingly, yes. Rodgers brought on Balotelli, Johnson, and Lucas for Lambert, Manquillo, and Coutinho, and Liverpool coped well. Sure, it was incredibly nerve-wracking. That's what Liverpool has done to us at the moment. After this horrific run, a one-goal lead is going to be nervous. But in those 30 minutes, West Brom only had one concrete chance to equalize: Brunt's fantastic cross finding Berahino, who had easily gotten away from Lovren's "attention," but with Berahino only able to head into the ground rather than at Mignolet. Sure, Phil Jagielka didn't even need a concrete chance to equalize, but this was still progress.

Otherwise, Liverpool had the better chances, and without committing too many men forward: two Balotelli shots, unsurprisingly outside the box, first narrowly wide, then tamely at Foster; a Gerrard curler straight at Foster; and somehow Lucas popping up with two efforts late on. Liverpool were reasonably in control and did well to keep possession, with Gerrard surprisingly as the most advanced midfielder, allowing Liverpool to utilize Henderson's non-stop running in a deeper role, protecting both the defense and the captain's legs.

Baby steps, and, yes, it was against West Brom and at Anfield, but maybe it really is a platform to build on.

Henderson and Lallana were fantastic, the former with the winning goal and another back-heeled assist, the latter's incredible ball control and movement responsible for the much-needed opener. Take your pick for man of the match; there was little to split them. Tactically, Liverpool looked better, especially in midfield with two players ahead of Gerrard rather than the 4-2-3-1 which simply hasn't worked. The substitutions worked: Balotelli, inspired by being left out, pressed diligently; Johnson looked like the 2010 version rather than the 2013 version; and Lucas didn't even commit any fouls. It was Lovren's turn as defensive scapegoat, but at least it wasn't costly. That has to stop happening sometime, right?

Incidentally, Liverpool's last league win came just before an international break too. Five weeks ago. Can Liverpool maintain this small bit of momentum? Can Liverpool's internationals return unscathed? Sturridge should be back from this never-ending injury when the league play restarts, and it appears Rodgers has found a solution in midfield – even if was a solution that shouldn't have been hard to find, as it was the most-used midfield throughout last season's good run. Maybe there is some hope for optimism.

Of course, it also goes without saying that one swallow doesn't make a summer, though.


pRohphet8 said...

"with Gerrard surprisingly as the most advanced midfielder"

It was SO nice seeing this once again.

Anonymous said...

Shows how ridiculously important Sturridge is to this team - he and Sterling are literally irreplaceable.

stoneybatter said...

"...and somehow Lucas popping up with two efforts late on..."

Lucas was, after all, an attacking midfielder at Gremio