This was not the result Brendan Rodgers would have looked for in his first league match as Liverpool manager on the opening day of the league season.
Liverpool lined up with what can be considered their strongest team, bar Jose Enrique who missed out with a knock to his knee. In his place came Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson moved to left-back. Liverpool played a 4-2-1-3.
Like Liverpool, West Brom played their first league fixture under new manager Steve Clarke. Clarke lined his team up to match Liverpool with three in midfield in a 4-3-3>4-5-1
Liverpool looked to dominate with a fluid forward line to exploit the movement of Gerrard, Suarez and Borini and Downing to maintain width. Conversely, West Brom looked to soak up pressure and hit Liverpool on the counter. The out-ball of Shane Long was very effective as he tormented the central defensive pair of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel
For the first 40 minutes of the game Liverpool dominated possession and goal scoring chances, however there were a few half-chances for West Brom, through Shane Long, to counter attack.
A common feature of Liverpool’s attacks was the use of forwards and backwards (vertical) diagonal passes to open the space for third man runners. These vertical balls were an attempt to get in between the lines of West Brom’s defence and midfield (who lined up 4-4-1-1 in defence).
Possibly the best example of this play was the passing combination culminating in Luis Suarez’s headed chance in the first half:
Here, the ball was fizzed in vertical diagonals across the pitch in order to find space in holes between the defence. The ball is played from Agger into Lucas, who plays the ball into the feet of Suarez who is dropping into a hole. Suarez plays the ball into the feet of Allen who plays a diagonal to Downing; Downing lays the ball off to Kelly (and the ball has effectively been played from left to right using 4-5 vertical diagonals). A few passes later and the ball finds Daniel Agger again.
Space has now opened up in front of Agger who is able to do one of his trademark forward runs from defence and pick a pass out to Borini. By Borini coming inside he has: a) found a pocket of space in between four West Brom defenders; and b) allowed space down the line for Johnson to overlap. Borini flicks the ball onto Johnson who beats his man and whips in a cross which Suarez heads over from 6 yards.
This was a clear example of a well worked attacking combination which didn’t result in a goal for Liverpool.
The visible tactic from West Brom was to look to cut out any vertical balls between the Liverpool midfield and attack and hit the ball between the two central defenders early for Long. This caught the Liverpool defence out two times early in the match as they were looking to transition into defence.
Another common theme from Liverpool last season, apart from not capitalising on their early chances, was to be hit with a sucker punch goal at the wrong time. Just before half-time West Brom won a corner. Liverpool defended it reasonably well with Skrtel winning a header and Johnson quick to close the player on the edge of the box. However, Zoltan Gera’s strike was world-class and unstoppable and West Brom went into the break with an undeserved 1-0 lead on the balance of play.
In the early minutes of the second half Liverpool again continued to dominate the possession. It looked as if the Reds would be able to get back into the match, even though not much changed in their game plan at half-time.
However, West Brom’s tactical plan for counter attack paid-off and Liverpool were down to ten men. In the space of 15 seconds Liverpool had gone from their familiar vertical combinations to losing the ball, losing a man and conceding a penalty.
In possession, Kelly played the ball into Downing who played it back inside to Gerrard. Gerrard had some space and tried to slide the ball in between the two holding central midfielders to Suarez, who had dropped into a space between midfield and defence. However, the pass was sloppy and the ball was won by West Brom and quickly played into the feet of Morrison.
Lucas came across to try to close down, but Morrison took a smart touch around him and was able to pick a pass between the two central defenders into the path of Shane Long. Long had been a nuisance all game for the Liverpool defence, and an untimely slip by Martin Skrtel left him seemingly 1v1 with Reina. The covering Agger leant in with his arm and Long went over inside the box – a penalty was awarded and Agger was given an early shower. Pepe Reina saved Long’s weak effort and hope was still in the air for Liverpool – who immediately brought on Carragher for Downing and switched to a 4-4-1.
Just minutes later Martin Skrtel was caught dawdling on the ball and the man-of-the-match Long nicked in-front and won another contentious penalty. This time Odemwingie had his chance from the spot and scored an unstoppable penalty past Reina who went the right way again. At 2-0 and down to ten men the result was effectively over, but Liverpool continued to push for some consolation. Some sloppy defending from a corner resulted in the third for West Brom, with Lukaku heading the ball in from close range on the back post.
This was not the result Brendan Rodgers would have liked in his first Premier League game in charge of Liverpool; conversely it was a dream result for Steve Clarke and his West Brom side.
Liverpool dominated possession and chances in the first half but couldn’t get the decisive goal and conceded at the other end via a great strike from Gera. Liverpool looked to continue their vertical combinations in the second half, however West Brom set up perfectly to counter this and, once Liverpool were down to ten men, continued to threaten on the counter-attack.