14 May 2016

Liverpool at West Brom 05.15.16

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 12.13.15
0-0 (a) 04.25.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.04.14
1-1 (a) 02.02.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (h); 2-0 Watford (h); 3-0 Villarreal (h)
West Brom: 1-1 Bournemouth (a); 0-3 West Ham (h); 1-1 Tottenham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Firmino 10; Coutinho, Sturridge 8; Milner, Origi 5; Lallana 4; Allen, Henderson, Ings 2; Can, Clyne, Moreno, Sakho, Skrtel, Toure 1
West Brom: Rondon 8; Berahino, Dawson 4; Gardner, Morrison 3; McClean, Sessegnon 2; Evans, Fletcher, Lambert, McAuley, Olsson 1

Referee: Bobby Madley

Guess at a line-up:
Randall Skrtel Lucas Smith
Ojo Stewart Allen Ibe
Benteke Ings

I wouldn't start a single player you'd expect to start on Wednesday. Not only is the Europa League final the apotheosis of Liverpool's season, Liverpool are against a Tony Pulls side tomorrow. You have seen Tony Pulls' sides before, yes?

Playing some who might feature off the bench in Basel probably can't be avoided: Allen, Benteke, Ibe or Ojo, doubtful-but-in-case-of-oh-no-emergency Skrtel. But no starters. Not that Liverpool have played that many usual starters for weekend league matches over the last month.

And yes, even if that includes Adam Bogdan. Bogdan's certainly gone during the summer but Danny Ward's still injured, as are a couple of youth team keepers. Imagine West Brom have a free kick or corner tomorrow. Mignolet attempts to punch through all the surrounding, clattering mouth-breathers (and probably misses), and unluckily gets hurt by one of those mouth-breathers. And then Bogdan's starting in a Europa League final. Please no.

The above is basically the same XI we saw against Watford. Except in goal, at full-back (Smith's back from suspension and it's a toss-up between Flanagan and Randall at right-back), and hopefully up front. Guessing that the returning Ings starts, either with Benteke or as the lone striker, is probably fantasy. He's been back in training for a couple of weeks but hasn't played in a match since October. More likely is that he's used as a substitute, if he's even ready enough for that. But a boy can dream. I have really missed Danny Ings. Liverpool have missed Danny Ings.

More likely is that Liverpool play 4-2-3-1, and it's Brannagan or Sergi Canos or Teixeira behind Benteke. Or Allen, with Chirivella alongside Stewart in a deeper role, but that's probably not happening given the duo's performance at Swansea, with West Brom an even more physical side. Maybe we'll see Henderson off the bench as well; like Ings, back in training, and hopeful of being available for the final.

Despite playing against a Tony Pulis side – which, I'll always reiterate, is never fun – this match could be a lot more strenuous for Liverpool. Like last weekend's opponent, West Brom are firmly lower mid-table, safe from relegation for more than a month but not much more. And they've been pretty bad since sealing safety, winless in their last eight, dating back to March 6. There was an impressive comeback draw at Tottenham, an unlucky loss at Manchester City. But no wins, and no matches where they've scored more than once since March 1. It's been especially dire at home, where they've lost to Norwich, Watford, and West Ham since beating Manchester United. That 1-0 win against United on March 6 was the last time they even scored at the Hawthorns. But it's their last match at home and they've been bad at home and they'll want to go out on the right note and etc etc.

Fletcher, Evans, and Sessegnon are questionable for tomorrow's match, while both Brunt and Morrison are definitely out. If the questionable players are available, West Brom's XI will be Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Evans; Yacob, Fletcher; Gardner, Sessegnon, McClean; Rondon. If they're not, Peko probably replaces Sessegnon, Sandro probably replaces Fletcher, and Chester probably replaces Evans. Maybe Pulis 'goes for it,' starting both Rondon and Berahino, but that XI still looks a lot like West Brom's usual 4-5-1 with Berahino in his own half as much as he's in the opposition's.

It'll be frustrating, it'll be physical. West Brom will start four central defenders and two holding midfielders, West Brom will rely solely on set plays and counter-attacks. Pulls wouldn't have it any other way. It would be that way no matter which Liverpool XI Klopp decided to play.

So it'll be a good test for the second-team side. Can they create chances against this type of opposition, especially since Benteke will struggle to get on the end of crosses against West Brom's Uruk-Hai defenders? Can Liverpool break down deep opposition, defend set plays, prevent counter-attacks? You know, things that the first team's struggled to do at times, especially when these sides met in December, when West Brom scored twice from two shots on-target on two set plays. When West Brom held Liverpool to a draw despite taking four shots in total.

Liverpool have an outside chance at sixth or seventh – Liverpool need both West Ham and Southampton to lose, and to gain two goals on West Ham's goal difference – but that's basically moot given all that's come before over this league campaign. Sixth means the Europa League qualifying rounds, as would seventh if United win the FA Cup. But that's out of Liverpool's hands.

All of Liverpool's hopes for next season's European participation – for Champions League participation – have been with this season's Europa League for the last month. All Liverpool can do tomorrow is beat what's in front of them, and for the players involved to demonstrate their worth, both for Wednesday and next season.

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