Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has set his team a target of getting wins in their remaining six fixtures in the Premier League. The German knows that if his team wins all six matches they will definitely preserve their top-four status, and perhaps challenge Manchester City for third spot. The Reds travel to The Hawthorns on Sunday to take on Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion. Unlike their guests, West Brom do not have very lofty targets. They have secured their Premier League future for 2017-18 and will be chasing records such as Pulis’ and their own record tally of points in the Premier League era.
The Hawthorns is indeed a daunting destination for the Reds, as the Baggies have not lost here in the last four encounters between these teams. If The Baggies at home is a tough challenge, Baggies led by Tony Pulis at home is an even tougher challenge as Liverpool have not been able to beat a Tony Pulis side at their home in more than 7 years. Pulis was coy about that record in the pre-match press conference but he did hope that the record would continue further. There are some factors that suggest that is quite possible – West Brom have a small but almost fully fit squad. They love to score from set pieces and Liverpool love to give away goals from set pieces. Baggies also have the physical presence in all areas across the fields to accomplish Pulis’ vision of given the Reds a hard time.
To this daunting challenge, Liverpool come with some serious depletions in the squad due to injuries. But their Brazilian superstars – Coutinho and Firmino are both available and perhaps a bit rested. More importantly, they are in great form and won the game for their team at Stoke last weekend. With these two and Origi in the attack, a rejuvenated Emre Can in the midfield, and a three men defence to provide better cover for in-form Mignolet, it does feel as if Liverpool are fairly well placed to overcome the challenge.
- West Brom have only earned four points from the last 18 available. They have failed to score in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since November 2014.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven league matches with West Brom, with three wins and four draws. However, the Baggies have only lost one of the last six meetings at The Hawthorns – the last three have been draws.
- Tony Pulis’ side have 44 points, at least equalling their final points total from the past three seasons and just five points behind their best ever Premier League tally set in 2012-13.
- WBA average the fewest successful passes per game in the Premier League this season (218); an average that is less than half of Liverpool’s (477 per game – the second-best average). The Baggies have averaged the lowest ball possession figure in the Premier League this season (36.5%) – a category they were also bottom of in 2015-16 (39.4%).
McAuley is one of the better defenders at Pulis’ disposal. He is strong in the air, good in defensive actions, and is not very prone to giving away fouls through bad tackles. Perhaps more importantly, he likes to score goals and more so, against Liverpool. McAuley scored in the reverse fixture in October is also one of the better bets to score again on Sunday. In set-piece situations McAuley can be very dangerous and Liverpool will be wary of him. At the same time, he is really handy in defence as he puts in about one block, 6 clearances, 1.4 tackles and 2 interceptions per game.
In Sadio Mane’s absence, Klopp has a choice between Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge but similar situations in the past have shown that he prefers the Belgian striker. In this match, he will perhaps be more preferred as Origi is also a good header of the ball. He has scored two goals in the last three matches and has also contributed to 9 goals in the league this season (6 scored, 3 assists), despite getting only 37 minutes per game. If Liverpool are to leave with any points from Hawthorns, Origi will play a key role, just like he played at Anfield last season against the Baggies.
Other than a few niggles here and there, Tony Pulis has his entire squad available for selection. He might indeed choose to rotate slightly but that would be to distribute game time. Players like Chris Brunt, Hal Robson-Kanu and James McClean can be in Pulis’ mind when he selects the team on Sunday.
Liverpool are not as fortunate and have a very long queue at the injury table. Sadio Mane is ruled out for the season, while Henderson’s recovery is delayed. Adam Lallana will also be available only after the Crystal Palace match. Due to these shortcomings up front and in the midfield, Klopp might be tempted to continue the 3-4-3 system he played in the last match at Stoke, despite the defense looking shaky.
As Theo Walcott said in his “unacceptable comments” earlier in the week, football games are won by teams that want to win more and I feel that Liverpool just have more incentives to win on Sunday than West Brom. The Reds are depleted and have a habit of dropping points in easily winnable matches, but at the same time, West Brom are also in the middle of a poor run, as they have won only one in the last six matches, during which time the Reds have won 4 and drawn two matches. These factors lead me to believe that Liverpool will have to fight for it but in the end they will prevail, just like they did at Stoke City.
West Brom 1 – 2 Liverpool