This weekend the Premier League takes a break and instead will be replaced by the FA Cup. The fourth round of the FA Cup involves several top teams but only two games are matchups between Premier League sides. Before Chelsea take on Newcastle United at home on Sunday afternoon, Liverpool will host West Bromwich Albion on Saturday night.
Earlier this week Liverpool proved once again that they are the football equivalent of Robinhood. After beating the top team in the league, they slipped to a shock defeat to the bottom team in the league – all within a matter of eight days. Liverpool need to shed away that pretence at the earliest if they want this season to qualify as at least an improvement. Having been already knocked out of the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup represents the only domestic opportunity for Liverpool to win silverware this season. While it will not be easy, they have already dumped one Premier League team – Everton – out of the cup and will be confident of meeting the same fate to West Brom.
West Brom have been on a good run recently, losing only one out of six games. But still they are 19th in the League, level on points with the bottom-ranked Swansea and two points behind Southampton in 18th position. This means that the FA Cup will not be very high on Alan Pardew’s list of priorities. This means that he could rotate his squad a bit to keep his best players ready for the League action which follows in the middle of next week. But despite the possible rotation, West Brom will represent a tough challenge for the Reds.
- This fixture will be the 150th game between the two sides. Out of the previous 149 games, Liverpool have won 68, drawn 43, and lost 38.
- The two teams are facing each other in FA Cup after 50 years. In 10 meetings in FA Cup, the Baggies have won 4, lost three and three games have been drawn.
- West Brom drew against Everton at Goodison Park on the weekend, which means that they have lost only once in last six games in all competitions. Liverpool’s shock loss to Swansea in the League ended their unbeaten streak of 18 games in all competitions.
- Liverpool are unbeaten at home this season. However, West Brom were able to leave Anfield with a point when they visited the Reds in December in a League fixture.
24 goals in 31 appearances and we are still in January. For most players, 24 goals in a season is a lofty target, while Mohamed Salah has achieved that with four months of football still left to be played. While his expected goals per 90 minutes (0.78) and his expected assists per 90 minutes (0.26) mean that he is currently contributing at least one goal every 90 minutes, but he is equally good at converting low xG chances. His probability of scoring “that goal” against Manchester City was just 1%. On Saturday night, Liverpool can expect another low-block defence from West Brom. In the Reds’ current set up, Mohamed Salah is their best hope of breaching it. The Egyptian had a poor game by his standards against Swansea and will be keen to make amends on Saturday.
To stop the rampaging attackers of Liverpool a defense needs to be extremely disciplined in positioning and focused, in addition to being a bit abrasive as well. In Ahmed Hegazi, West Brom have a no-nonsense defender whose defensive attributes including tackling, clearances, blocks, and interceptions are great. He wins half of the aerial duels he is involved in and 2/3rds of the tackles he attempts. He has the third-best Clearance-Block-Interception numbers in the league as of now. Moreover, not only does he defend well, he is also a great attacking option during set-plays, which is where Liverpool are at their weakest. For West Brom to upset Liverpool at Anfield, Hegazi will need to have a great game.
Jurgen Klopp can welcome back Alberto Moreno into the side for this game but in all probabilities, the Spaniard will make the bench after recovering from his ankle injury. Dejan Lovren remains a doubt after missing the Swansea game due to an illness. Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge are back in training but may not be ready to take field on Saturday. Klopp might also rest some of his attackers, most likely Firmino, which could mean an opportunity for Solanke or Ings.
James Morrison and Nacer Chadli remain sidelined for the Baggies but other than those two Alan Pardew has a fully fit squad. He may, however, be inclined to rotate his squad a bit as West Brom play Manchester City in their next League game. This could mean a rest for Salomon Rondon and an opportunity for the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu.
Progress in FA Cup could decide how Liverpool’s fans evaluate their season in May, while for West Brom, such progress could mean more distraction from their core focus, which at this stage should be survival in The Premier League. This difference in perspective is likely to be the factor that decides Saturday’s result. While it will not be very easy, but Liverpool should be able to win the tie and progress to the next round.
Liverpool 2 – 1 West Bromwich Albion