Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez both retained their spots in the starting lineup, the latter scoring 13 goals in as many league games. On loan Chelsea man Victor Moses dropped to the bench to accommodate Lucas Leiva, with Gerrard filling into the hole created in the Nigerian’s absence.
Berahino was replaced by Nicolas Anelka, the Frenchman has yet to register for the Baggies this season. Boaz Myhill continued to deputise in the place of the injured Ben Foster.
As was clear from the off, the placement of Jordan Henderson alongside Lucas Leiva was intended to provide Steven Gerrard with some assistance in getting the ball to Liverpool’s frontmen, past the defensive duo of Mulumbu and Yacob, both ever present this season. The ex-Sunderland man’s dynamism allowing him to count as another body going forward to aid the Reds’ attack, while having the stamina to track back and assist the more defensive minded Lucas Leiva, who was dispatched to protect the back four, as he does so well. The back three (or five, depending on your view) was retained as per usual by Liverpool, the wider centre backs pulling wide in order to relieve pressure on the centre-most defender, Martin Skrtel, and providing an option for Simon Mignolet to play the ball out to, without resorting to smashing the ball up the field in search of Suarez or Sturridge, which is almost the polar opposite to the playing system Brendan Rodgers has implemented amongst Liverpool.
This system also allowed Lucas to drop deeper to receive the ball and pick passes to the wingbacks, faced with non-existent pressure due to West Brom’s unwillingness to play a number 10, who would not only have created chances for a stifled Baggies attack, but would have put pressure on the Brazilian, and not allowed him such space, instead, both central midfielders (defensively oriented anyway) remained deeper, allowing not only Lucas, but Henderson, Gerrard, and Suarez, when he dropped deep, time to play passes across the Anfield turf.
Luis Suarez showed no signs of rust as he put on a truly magnificent display to all but seal the result in the first half. The centralised West Brom defence, in the form of Yacob and Mulumbu, and Olsson and McAuley further behind them, occasionally forced Suarez into wider areas, as the picture below shows. Interchanging with Cissokho often left Albion full back Billy Jones with a 2 on 1 situation and either Suarez or Cissokho overlapping one another. Suarez also dropped deep on occasion, to receive the ball and pass to his strike partner, Daniel Sturridge, or to go on one of his customary mazy dribbling runs, which didn’t work in the Uruguayan’s favour as often as they usually do, with only 5 of his 11 take-ons, mostly in and around the 18 yard box. Not only content with scoring three goals of the highest quality, Suarez also managed to create 3 chances in the game, not only reaping the benefits, but sowing them.
A player who continues to shine, and is yet vastly under-appreciated by all but Liverpool fans in Lucas Leiva. Originally, and bizarrely deployed by Rafa Benitez as an attacking midfielder in his first few appearances for the club, he has now flourished into a fully-fledged defensive midfielder and the game against West Brom, highlighted the reasons why he’s popular amongst The Kop.
Lucas provided a shield to the occasionally stretched back three, preventing Anichebe and Anelka from exploiting the space either side of Skrtel, and occasionally filling in to form a back four if called upon. Lucas also provided an option to Simon Mignolet as a pass option, left largely unmarked due to West Brom’s lack of number 10 to pressure him. Not just an option for passing and filling space, Lucas also provided defensive work and covered for Jordan Henderson’s buccaneering forward runs to support the attack, completing 8 out of his 10 tackles and completing all of his clearances, all with a solid pass accuracy of 93%. Certainly a good days work by the boy from Brazil.
Nicolas Anelka’s goals, (or lack thereof) will be of growing concern to West Brom supporters everywhere. It is unfair on the Frenchman that he was succeeded by Romelu Lukaku, who had a stellar loan period at the Hawthorns, but the comparisons will inevitably be drawn, as is football. It isn’t a case of being unlucky, the journeyman striker simply hasn’t been shooting enough, whether that is because of the difficult opposition West Brom have faced, or his renowned lethargic play style, it is a concern nonetheless with Anelka mustering only four shots this season, one every 105 minutes, with a 25% shooting accuracy, the deal must be looking to have backfired for the Baggies. It cannot even be argued that Anelka is excelling as a support striker to summer signing Victor Anichebe, who has also failed to hit the ground running, as the former has only created four chances since his arrival and has a pitiful 15% cross accuracy.
So what do you think? Can Liverpool sustain a challenge for the top four, or even the title? Is Anichebe the right man to fill Lukaku’s free scoring boots? Will Nicolas Anelka ever score a goal again, or even get a shot on target? Let me know in the comments.