I think it’s fair to say that Liverpool’s encounters against Albion last year did not go to plan. The red’s arrived at the Hawthorns on the opening day of last season full of optimism. They had a confident new manager, a new playing style to implement and new players with which to do just that. They were ready to start with a bang. Four yellow Cards, one red card and three Albion goals later ensured that they got off to just about the worst start possible. The second meeting between the two teams came in February 2013 at Anfield. Liverpool were in good spirits after two promising 2-2 away draws at Arsenal and Manchester City. Once again the midlands team came out on top running out 2-0 winners thanks to a bulldozing performance from Romelu Lukaku.
Fast forward to this weekend and again things are looking good for Liverpool. They sit third in the table, level on points with Chelsea and only two points behind league leaders Arsenal. Albion’s season by comparison has been difficult to gauge so far. They rest 12th in the table having won two games, drawn 4 and lost two. Last season’s Albion side enjoyed their best ever season in the premier League finishing 8th an effort that was accompanied with some eye catching results aside from their victories against Liverpool, namely the 2-1 home victory over Chelsea and the tremendous 5-5 draw with Manchester United on the final day of the season. What this goes to show is that Steve Clark’s Albion side were capable of lifting their performance against the bigger clubs and picking up points. The 2-1 victory at Old Trafford shows that this year’s incarnation of the team hasn’t lost that trait.
To win this game on Saturday Liverpool must address a couple of issues that have occurred in recent games. The most pressing issue is the continued adaption to the 3-4-1-2 formation. The switch to 3-4-1-2 has brought with it a departure from Brendan Rodger’s possession based “death by Football” system of last year in favour of a more defensively sound and robust system, designed to accommodate the increased number of centre backs and to bring Suarez, Sturridge and Coutinho (when fit) into the middle of the pitch. You can see Brendan Rodgers’ thinking behind the formation, with everyone fit it is perhaps the system that best suits the players at his disposal. One problem the formation does leave however is that when Liverpool are caught without the ball it is easy for the opposition to get at the defence from wide positions, especially when our fullbacks are relied upon to provide width in forward areas. Albion’s wide pair of Amalfitano and Sessegnon whilst not out and out wingers per se are both pacey and direct and could cause the three centre backs problems if they get them isolated. To stop this from happening it is imperative that Liverpool maintain possession well, something that at times in this formation they have struggled to do. The return of Lucas to the central midfield will aid the problem of a stretched back three as he will be the man to drop back and provide cover whilst the full backs make their way back.
Lucas’ potential return to action may albeit unfairly signal Jordan Henderson’s return to the bench. Against Newcastle he played in central midfield for the first time in quite a while and performed reasonably well there keeping possession well with Gerrard although it must be remembered that a large portion of the game was played against ten men. Playing Henderson as the right wing-back would also be unlikely given Glen Johnson’s return against Newcastle. Alternatively Rodgers may choose to move Victor Moses to the bench and play Henderson behind Suarez and Sturridge as a return for Coutinho looks unlikely. Personally I would keep Moses in that position as he adds more impetus to the attack even though it is not his natural position. The presence of Yacob and Mulumbu (in my opinion Albion’s two most important players) in the centre of the pitch may cause Rodgers to opt for Moses. The midfield duo will be tasked with attempting to keep the electric pair of Sturridge and Suarez quiet, so an extra attacking threat in Moses would be welcome.
If Liverpool make the right personnel choices and improve within the confines of the new formation I feel we should have more than enough (especially at home) to beat West Brom, but hey that’s what I thought last season!