21 October 2016

Liverpool v West Brom 10.22.16

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 05.15.16
2-2 (h) 12.13.15
0-0 (a) 04.25.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.04.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 United (h); 2-1 Swansea (a); 5-1 Hull (h)
West Brom: 1-1 Tottenham (h); 1-1 Sunderland (a); 1-1 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Milner 4; Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Mané 3; Henderson, Lovren 1
West Brom: Chadli 4; Rondon 3; McAuley, McClean 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Mané Firmino Coutinho

It appears we're back to full-strength, first-choice Liverpool. Just in time for one of our least favorite fixtures of the season.

As for those struggling with minor injuries: Lallana seems a certainty simply because he was fit enough for half-an-hour five days ago. If Wijnaldum's not ready, Can will probably keep his place; if Milner's still bothered, it'll be Moreno.

I wouldn't expect Sturridge to start unless there are multiple absentees, as there were in the last match. As crazy as it is to write, Liverpool have usually been better without him this season. Maybe that's more down to opposition, and he'd be more effective against the sit-deep-and-hoof likes of West Brom, but I still we'll see the "preferred" XI, with Sturridge used as a substitute when or if needed.

Otherwise, same worries, different day. Up against a deep, determined defense who's okay at counter-attacking and excellent at set plays. Liverpool did it against Hull and Leicester, but didn't do enough against United. We've said we need to see Liverpool succeed against this style more consistently, and they'll have to do it against a side and manager that routinely foil and flummox.

It's a Tony Pulis side. You know the drill. Blunt the opposition's attack by any means necessary, hoof to height. Win set plays, score from set plays. And it often leads to a dire, dispiriting match, one where Liverpool often drop points.


At least Liverpool are at Anfield, where they've won three and drawn four against Tony Pulis teams, compared to one win, five draws, and three losses away from home.

But, regardless of venue, the last time Liverpool beat a Tony Pulis side in the league was February 2011, a match notable for Luis Suarez' Liverpool debut. There were two cup wins in 2011-12, the season Liverpool made both domestic cup finals, but otherwise, two draws and two losses against Stoke, a draw we won't discuss at Crystal Palace, and three consecutive draws against West Brom since 2011. The only times Liverpool have kept clean sheets, the match ended 0-0.

Unsurprisingly, this Tony Pulis side is a lot like all the others. Five of West Brom's nine league goals have come from set plays (two open play, one counter-attack, one penalty), including two of the last three that have led to three successive 1-1 draws. Four of the five set-play goals have been corners, three of those four have been clear-cut chances.

I doubt I need remind that both of West Brom's goals in this fixture last season came from set plays. And came from West Brom's only two shots on-target.

At least West Brom's line-up is predictable. They've no injuries, but Jonny Evans is suspended, which could be a big miss in defense. The XI will almost certainly be Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Nyom; Fletcher, Yacob; Phillips, Chadli, McClean; Rondon.

Maybe Saido Berahino or Jonathan Leko gets a look-in because counter-attacks, maybe Craig Gardner in midfield for set piece delivery, but those seem doubtful. As usual for Pulis, it's been a very settled XI. And Nacer Chadli has been the star since signing for a club-record fee at the end of August, with four goals and two assists in his five matches. West Brom has scored all of seven goals in those five matches; he's had a hand in six. Rondon's a danger as well, Pulis' favorite type of all-around target-man, but it's Chadli who's wreaked all the havoc lately, the much-needed link between Rondon and everyone else behind the ball.

The second phase of the season starts now. The first phase saw Liverpool play five of the tougher sides in the league in the first eight games. Liverpool's next eight league games are against West Brom, Palace, Watford, Southampton, Sunderland, Bournemouth, West Ham, and Boro: one promoted side, two sides who finished top-half last season but have disappointed so far in this, and the five teams that finished 13th through 17th last season.

We're all aware that Liverpool have been both better and more consistent when facing better opposition. Now Liverpool have an extended run to show they can do it against the type of sides they often disappointed against. And it starts with Tony Pulis.

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