13 December 2015

Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Henderson 21'
Dawson 30'
Olsson 73'
Origi 90+6'

A draw where you come back to get a point, especially when it happens deep into injury time, always feels better than a draw where you've lost the lead. But it's still a draw. At home, against West Brom. When Liverpool had 70% possession and scored an excellent opening goal and took 28 shots to West Brom's four.

I can't help being a killjoy sometimes.

To be fair, it was a reasonable performance, probably Liverpool's best in the league since thrashing City away, although that's not saying much. But Liverpool still weren't good enough in attack and Liverpool conceded twice from set plays: one individual mistake for the equalizer, one where for the attack was simply better than the defense for West Brom's lead.

It's Groundhog Day for Liverpool and Groundhog Day against Tony Pulis. At least Liverpool didn't give up, Anfield rocked for the final 20 minutes, and Liverpool finally found an equalizer, even if through a fortunate deflection. It's still two points dropped – at least it wasn't three – and Liverpool's eighth draw against a Tony Pulis side in 13 league meetings under five different managers.

Just as we feared, just as has happened no matter the manager and no matter Liverpool's form, Liverpool got Pulised. Everyone knows how they'll play, but they still get results: beating Arsenal and drawing with Tottenham, West Ham, and now Liverpool in the last four matches.

It's especially galling that Liverpool got Pulised despite taking the lead, after Liverpool broke through West Brom's defense exactly as you need to break through West Brom's defense: a patient 19-pass move where nine of 11 Liverpool players touched the ball and Liverpool probed until pulling defenders out of position, leading to Coutinho's lofted cross, Lallana's aerial knock-down in front of Brunt, and Henderson's lung-busting run from midfield for a tap-in.

It should have been a platform for dominance: keeping possession, staying secure, trying to add more. And for the most part, that happened, until West Brom earned a corner. But Liverpool still struggle to defend set plays and Liverpool can't stop making individual mistakes at the back.

The sad thing is that Liverpool actually defended the corner reasonably well. Or, at least, were in position to do so: Benteke or Clyne looked likely to head clear in front of Rondon, but Mignolet crashed into Benteke, missing his attempted punch, and Rondon touched to Dawson in the ensuing scramble, with Mignolet out of position to deny the shot. You could hear Yakety Sax as soon as Mignolet charged forward.

From there, the inevitable, undying struggle. Liverpool knocked back to square one, still dominating possession but unable to turn the screws. Liverpool laboring to create clear chances, Liverpool settling for long-range shots with 10 West Brom players behind the ball. And Liverpool were lucky to still be level at halftime: another set play just before the interval, Olsson with the ball in the net, but rightfully ruled offside as Liverpool's trap worked. Barely. Pawson initially gave the goal before consulting with his linesman, both benches erupting when the goal was finally chalked off.

Then the second verse, same as the first. Half-chances rather than clear-cut for Liverpool, the best of the bunch off-target with West Brom defenders doing just enough: Lovren's set play header deflected over, Benteke's header high and wide when challenged by Olsson, Benteke's half-volley wide under pressure from McAuley.

Because Liverpool, it was little surprise when that was followed by another set play stomach punch, from another corner, from the same side as the first. This time, there was little that Liverpool could do about it: a perfect delivery by Brunt, Olsson's run stronger than a standing Lovren. Sure, maybe Lovren should done better, but a running attacker is almost always going to beat a standing defender, especially when the ball in is that dangerous. See: Gestede trucking Sakho against Aston Villa a couple of months back. Sure, maybe Olsson gets called for a foul, a forearm into Lovren's head as he's jumping for the ball, but that's often ignored in similar situations.

With memories of Crystal Palace and Newcastle, the next 20 minutes seemed set. Liverpool would huff, Liverpool would puff, Liverpool would fail to blow the house down. A six-minute delay for Lovren's injury – at worst, a leg break or ligament damage, at least a nasty cut on the knee – swiftly followed by Lallana spurning a one-on-one opportunity, his low shot from Benteke's throughball kick-saved by Myhill, only emphasized that belief. Liverpool were increasingly limited to shots from distance: Henderson wide and straight at Myhill, Ibe wide. As Newcastle did, West Brom almost opening Liverpool up on the counter, Rondon off-target where Wijnaldum scored.

But then, that needed bit of luck. Origi's last-ditch shot, the deepest that Liverpool took in the match, a wicked deflection wrong-footing Myhill, an equalizer that the Kop's roar somehow sucked in. Phew. It was the latest goal that Liverpool have scored since Skrtel's equalizer against Arsenal almost exactly a year ago, another match where Liverpool scored first, conceded twice, but somehow saved face. Incidentally, that draw started Liverpool's 13-match unbeaten run in the league. It was just the second time that Liverpool have scored twice at Anfield in Klopp's seven home matches, the first time it's happened in the league.

It's a much-needed point gained, at least a bit of momentum and a massive step toward restoring the vaunted Anfield atmosphere, Klopp rightfully leading the team to the Kop in appreciative applause after the final whistle. It's a point more than United and Tottenham were able to get against arguably weaker opposition this weekend. It was a better performance than we've seen in the majority of Liverpool's recent matches, those against Palace, Swansea, Newcastle, and Sion at least.

But it's still two points dropped when Liverpool dominated and Liverpool shouldn't have dropped points.

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