Liverpool were given a reality check against Newcastle United and reminded of the huge task that is still ahead of them, if they are to be considered genuine contenders for the top four. Jurgen Klopp has showed signs that he can take the club further than his predecessor could, but there is still a lot to be done before Liverpool can be considered as one of the best sides in the league once again. West Brom are the visitors this weekend and they will offer a genuine test for the former Borussia Dortmund coach with Tony Pulis playing a direct style of football. They will come to Anfield and make themselves difficult to beat and Liverpool will have to show more attacking quality than they showed last weekend.
The sacking of Brendan Rodgers was a shock to some people in the game, but Jurgen Klopp wasn’t going to be available for long and the board at Liverpool knew that he was the man to take the club back to the top of the league. Liverpool have had a good start under Klopp with the performances against Chelsea and Manchester City being excellent, but the games against Newcastle and Crystal Palace show that there are still huge problems to address. The injuries that he has had to deal with aren’t ideal, especially now Daniel Sturridge has faced another setback and will be unavailable for the next few matches. They are six points off the top four and a strong winter period will put them in a great position to push on in the new year.
West Brom have had a good start to the season and are ticking along nicely in mid table. The appointment of Tony Pulis last season was always going to lead to this and the majority of the fanbase will be happy to be a secure Premier League side. In their recent matches, they have managed to beat Arsenal and draw with Tottenham, and they could have beaten the latter on another day. They are six points above the relegation zone and will want to keep that safety cushion over the Christmas period.
In the fixture last season, Liverpool beat West Brom thanks to goals from Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. Sadio Berahino scored for West Brom before Henderson scored the winner. Meanwhile in the other fixture between the two clubs, Liverpool’s hopes of a top four finish were dealt a blow when they played out a goalless draw with the Baggies.
Liverpool have scored the fewest amount of goals by the top nine sides in the league, highlighting how much they miss Daniel Sturridge.
West Brom have only lost twice in their last seven games and have avoided defeat against Tottenham and Arsenal.
Philippe Coutinho will be returning to the Liverpool side this weekend and he was a huge miss against Newcastle, with the side struggling to create chances in his absence. Roberto Firmino was beginning to settle into the league, but he didn’t look comfortable carrying the creative responsibility against Newcastle with Jordan Ibe looking the best of the Liverpool midfield. The Brazilian has had an excellent start to the season, scoring five goals and getting three assists in 12 league appearances. He is beginning to become more consistent and should now be considered as one of the leading attacking midfielders in the league. The most impressive part about his game is his ability to find space between the lines and his reading of the game is excellent. He has the ability to score goals from range and play defence-splitting through balls, which makes him a difficult player to defend against. West Brom will play defensively on Sunday and try to limit the space available to Liverpool in the final third. This is why Coutinho will be key as he has the quality to win tight matches on his own and one piece of excellence could be the difference on Sunday.
Darren Fletcher has a wealth of experience to his name after a trophy-laden spell with Manchester United and he was an inspired signing for West Brom at the beginning of this year. He leads by example and has certainly seen an improvement in the side’s consistency since he became captain of the club. After such a long time struggling with illness, he will be delighted to be back playing regularly in the Premier League and he still has the quality to change matches at this level. Last weekend, his ability showed with an excellent assist for the equaliser against Tottenham and the Scottish international was running the game at times. It is in matches against teams like Tottenham and Liverpool in which Fletcher is even more important for West Brom as he has plenty of experience in big matches, especially in terms of managing a game. West Brom are never going to beat these sides on ability alone, which is where the intelligence of players like Fletcher is key. His reading of the game is also superb, which allows him to make timely interceptions and play the right ball when he has possession of the ball. His passing accuracy is 81%, which is really good in a team like West Brom.
Emre Can will return from his one match suspension, while Philippe Coutinho should also come back into the starting eleven. Daniel Sturridge, Jon Flanagan and Mamadou Sakho should return this month, but this match will come too soon. Danny Ings and Joe Gomez remain long-term absentees.
Ben Foster is still a month away from a return to action, while Stephane Sessegnon is also likely to miss out. Jonny Evans is likely to continue in midfield after an impressive performance against Tottenham.
I expect Liverpool to return to winning ways on Sunday, but it won’t be a comfortable win as West Brom are rarely beaten with ease. The return of Emre Can and Coutinho are very important as both have an eye for a forwards pass and that was lacking last weekend with Liverpool relying too much on their wide players. West Brom will be well organised and they won’t give much away, but the quality should show on the day and I expect Coutinho to play a huge role in that.
Liverpool 2-0 West Brom