28 years. Justice For The 96.
8:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports
Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.22.16
1-1 (a) 05.15.16
2-2 (h) 12.13.15
0-0 (a) 04.25.15
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Stoke (a); 2-2 Bournemouth (a); 3-1 Everton (h)
West Brom: 0-1 Southampton (h); 0-2 Watford (a); 0-0 United (a)
Liverpool: Mané 13; Firmino 10; Coutinho 9; Lallana, Milner 7; Origi 6; Wijnaldum 5; Can 4; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
West Brom: Rondon 7; McAuley 6; Chadli, Morrison 5; Phillips 4; Brunt, Dawson 3; Fletcher, Robson-Kanu 2; Evans, McClean 1
Referee: Jon Moss
Guess at a line-up:
Klavan Matip Lovren
Clyne Wijnaldum Can Milner
Firmino Sturridge Coutinho
Dejan Lovren hinted at Liverpool keeping the three-at-the-back system earlier this week, discussing the need to cope with West Brom's directness and questionably playing up how well he, Matip, and Klavan mesh.
It's not necessarily the worst idea in the world. In theory, more taller players would be better able to cope with long balls and set plays and aerial duels, especially after a week of actually training in said formation. And Liverpool's attack did well in the second half against Stoke, with Firmino, Coutinho, and Sturridge coming in, a 3-4-3 rather than unbalanced, inexperienced, and square-pegs-in-round-holes 3-5-1-1.
Unfortunately, Firmino's once again doubtful, for the same reasons which only saw him play the second half last week. And if Firmino's unable to start, Liverpool have a couple of options, although obviously none as good as the side with Firmino. With three at the back, it's probably more of a 3-5-1-1 as we saw to start the game against Stoke, with Lucas between Can and Wijnaldum and Coutinho behind either Sturridge or Origi. Maybe both Sturridge and Origi, with one ostensibly playing wide or in a 4-4-2 diamond. Or, one of the kids in the more typical 4-3-3 or even 3-4-3: either Woodburn or Harry Wilson.
I would really like to see Daniel Sturridge start tomorrow. Yes, because of his performance off the bench last week. Because he's finally fit. And because, when fit and firing, he is still one of Liverpool's better players. He links better with Liverpool's other attackers, is better able to lead the line against a side like West Brom, and is far, far more likely to score goals. And Divock Origi's pace could be more of a benefit if needed off the bench.
Whether it's three-at-the-back or 4-3-3, Lucas in midfield isn't the worst idea in the world either, for the same reason as three-at-the-back isn't the worst idea in the world. More taller players, more better headers, a firmer defensive shield.
Because Liverpool can't just roll an XI out and expect to overrun West Brom. That hasn't worked against many in 2017, unlike at the beginning of the season, and especially not with Liverpool missing Mané, Henderson, Lallana, and possibly Firmino as well. But it really won't work tomorrow. Liverpool have to respect West Brom. Liverpool have to actually game plan to beat West Brom.
If I haven't mentioned it before – p.s. I have – I really, really hate facing Tony Pulis sides. Even Tony Pulis sides that are winless in three, have lost four of their last six games, have actually scored goals in just one of their last six games, have lost their last two against Watford and Southampton, and are probably close to coasting into the end of the campaign. Tony Pulis sides never seem to coast against Liverpool.
My best guess at an XI is Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Fletcher, Livermore; Chadli, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Brunt and McClean other possibilities out wide. Maybe Claudio Yacob in midfield. Maybe 4-3-3, either with Morrison playing deeper or Brunt or Yacob coming in. West Brom, somehow at this stage of the season, have no injury concerns.
Regardless of personnel, West Brom will be West Brom. West Brom are West Brom. Deep, blocking, Uruk-Hai defenders. Destroyers in midfield. Quick, counter-attacking, crossing wingers, and a heading, hold-up play machine up front. Pure Tony Pulis right into the veins.
West Brom 3-1 Arsenal, almost exactly one month ago, is the terrifying template. That lone win in the last six, the only match where West Brom have scored in the last six. 77% Arsenal possession. A rapid-fire Arsenal equalizer in the 15th minute after unnecessarily conceding three minutes prior, which should have changed the tone and sent them on their way. But Arsenal never truly able to pierce West Brom's big, dumb, and always-in-the-way defense. Arsenal outshot after 90 minutes. And Arsenal conceding from two corners and some comedy goal-keeping. This may sound familiar, etc etc.
West Brom have, unsurprisingly, scored the most set play goals in the division. Something something Liverpool something corners. Something something sigh.
This could well be Liverpool's hardest match left on the calendar, although it's not as if we're all unaware that any match can be Liverpool's hardest match. But away from home. Against arguably the best and arguably the toughest of the mid-table bloc. Against a big, burly set play and counter-attacking side. Against Tony Pulis. At a ground where Liverpool haven't won a league match since October 2011, with one draw and three losses since.
There are six games left. Make them count.