03 October 2014

Liverpool v West Brom 10.04.14

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 02.02.14
4-1 Liverpool (h) 10.26.13
0-2 West Brom (h) 02.11.13
2-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 09.26.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Basel (a); 1-1 Everton (h); 2-2 Boro [14-13 pens] (h)
West Brom: 4-0 Burnley (h); 3-2 Hull (h); 1-0 Tottenham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Sterling 3; Gerrard 2; Moreno, Sturridge 1
West Brom: Berahino 4; Dawson, Dorrans, Morrison 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Gerrard Henderson
Lallana Coutinho Sterling

Allen, Can, Flanagan, Sakho, and Johnson all remain out. Sturridge probably will be absent as well, thankfully left out of the upcoming England squad, at best able to play a few minutes off the bench.

With Sterling and Gerrard almost certainly fatigued after the midweek trip to Switzerland – at least both looked very fatigued – it'd be nice to rest them tomorrow. But I doubt that's likely.

While I suspect the XI will be similar to the last two matches – 4-2-3-1 again, with the only potential changes in the attacking line of three – I'd rather something different, with both opposition and personnel issues in mind. Even though the diamond didn't work well at West Ham – although West Ham's fast start didn't even give it a chance to work well – I think it's still the best formation to kickstart Liverpool's stuttering attack.

The alpha and omega is Balotelli's struggles as a lone striker. And Liverpool are at Anfield, where they'll expect to monopolize possession and need to break through a deep defense. So play him with another more mobile striker – most likely Borini, but maybe even Lambert, who's admittedly struggling even more than Balotelli – with either Lallana or Coutinho at the apex of midfield, Gerrard at the base, Henderson on one side, and either Lallana or Coutinho on the other. Maybe playing both Lallana and Coutinho in midfield is a recipe for disaster, and if you're worried about that, Lucas is still an option, despite concerns over his form. But Coutinho did well in the #8 role opposite Henderson when Liverpool played 4-3-3 in the second half of last season. And it's West Brom, at Anfield, and not much else has worked lately in Sturridge's absence. So roll the dice.

Still, I'd be surprised if it were anything other than 4-2-3-1, with both Sterling and Gerrard starting. Markovic, Lallana, Coutinho, and Borini will compete for two of the three places in the attacking line of three, along with Sterling as the third. Maybe this time will be different than the other times.

West Brom had been typically cagey until facing Burnley last Sunday: clean sheets in two of three away matches, giving up two at home to both Sunderland and Everton, and a grand total of three goals scored through five league matches. But against Burnley, the Baggies more than doubled their season-long goal tally in a single match and rarely, if ever, looked like conceding. It was their third consecutive victory after the narrow win at White Hart Lane and a 3-2 League Cup triumph over Hull thanks to two late goals. A light at the end of the tunnel, a new manager's plan coming together, or just a match against one of the worst teams in the league when they were were missing four key players?

West Brom's first two goals came from corners, the second two from counter-attacks. This should be a massive, flashing, neon red warning sign to Liverpool, exactly the type of goals Liverpool are prone to conceding. The set plays goals were especially frightening: the first to the back post, just like the corner conceded against West Ham; the second at the near post, just like the free kick conceded against Boro.

Liverpool's recent bane, Steve Clarke, is gone, replaced by David Moyes' longtime assistant at Everton, Alan Irvine. And like Moyes, Irvine's preferred the 4-2-3-1 formation, if not quite as defensive as Moyes, using the formation in all six of West Brom's league fixtures so far.

Berahino's two goals against Burnley moved him up to joint-third in the top scorer table, and I'm amazed Hodgson failed to call him up for to the England squad, especially with Sturridge absent. West Brom have given Liverpool problems before with the Yacob/Mulumbu midfield, but both have rarely been used this season, with the more mobile Morrison and Gardner usually preferred. West Brom signed both Joleon Lescott and left-back Sébastien Pocognoli this summer, revamping the defense, meaning that Uruk-Hai Jonas Olsson, so often Luis Suarez's nemesis, isn't likely to feature.

On-loan Andre Wisdom has started all six of West Brom's matches at right back. As he's ineligible to face Liverpool, Cristian Gamboa will make his full league debut tomorrow after three substitute appearances. Gamboa is a much more attacking fullback, potentially leaving space for Liverpool to exploit down their preferred flank, but also capable of causing Moreno et al problems when getting forward.

Other than Gamboa for Wisdom, West Brom's XI will probably be the same used in the last two fixtures: Foster; Gamboa, Dawson, Lescott, Pocognoli; Morrison, Gardner; Dorrans, Sessegnon, Brunt; Berahino. Irvine could replace Sessegnon with Ideye, Samaras, or Anichebe to add another striker, while Berahino's also capable of starting from a narrow right berth.

Last season, this was one of the fixtures that Suarez won nearly single-handedly: a hat-trick within 55 minutes, including one goal-of-the-season contender, all three goals from the center of the penalty box, putting five of his eight shots on-target. And the win was capped off with yet another goal-of-the-season contender from Sturridge, an audacious chip from outside the box. West Brom had beaten Liverpool in the previous two meetings at Anfield, but that meant nothing because of Liverpool's firepower.

Well, that firepower has been extinguished. One of those strikers is gone, the other likely to miss the match through injury. And I'm sure you've read far too many words about Liverpool's current striker's current issues over the last week, including too many by yours truly. He's certainly not Liverpool's only problem at the moment, but it's still a problem.

In theory, this is a match for Liverpool to get back on track, at home against a side they're capable of beating, even if they've struggled so far this season and against West Brom in the past. But Liverpool will have to be better, in all phases of play, to accomplish that. And even if they do – and that's still a big if – there's yet another international break to derail any progress immediately after.


Ryan McKain said...

Nice Tolkien reference.

Yours is always the first place I look to for pre- and post-match analysis. Thanks for blogging.

nate said...

Thanks much.

I'm gonna miss calling Olsson an Uruk Hai. It 's one of the better analogies I've come up with.

Anonymous said...

Really good analysis, once again.