Amidst the growing threat from a mutant COVID-19 strain, Premier League and EFL have stepped up the testing protocols for clubs that fall under Tier 4. However, as it stands currently, Premier League football is set to continue through the holiday period. This means that Liverpool, who fall in Tier 2, will host West Bromwich Albion on Sunday evening.
Liverpool are flying high after registering their biggest away win in Premier League against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Jurgen Klopp has struggled to fill the gaps left by injuries in his defence but upfront he has a problem of plenty as Minamino, Mane, Firmino and Salah – all found them on the scoresheet at Selhurst Park. The win in London ensures that Liverpool are at the top of the table for a third successive Christmas. While this might be a cue for a slew of articles about how several teams have dropped the ball after the holidays to slip from the top – the Reds themselves did that in 2018-19. However, this season none of the chasing pack really seem up to the task. Mourinho’s Spurs, who seemed the most promising of the lot, have dropped down to fifth position from being level with Liverpool just a couple of gamedays back, while the Reds are four points clear at the top. Also, it seems that Klopp’s men are gaining momentum. The German will hope that his side keep that momentum going at home against Sam Allardyce’s wards.
West Brom seem to be falling prey to the Championship winners’ curse. Just one win and five draws in 13 games was enough for the board to sack Slaven Bilic. But his replacement was not able to stem the poor form immediately against Aston Villa on Tuesday night. While he did not change the starting XI from the draw against Manchester City, he certainly made tactical tweaks, which made sure West Brom played more direct and risk-averse football. That loss in the derby ensured that the Baggies are a full five points away from the 17th place in the table. Allardyce will certainly hope that his new team can turn it around. But to expect that turnaround to happen at Anfield against Liverpool in their current form is asking for a bit too much.
- By their standards, Liverpool have a surprisingly mediocre recent record against West Brom. After winning 10 of their first 11 Premier League meetings with the Baggies (L1), the Reds have won just four of their last 13 against them (D6 L3). In the last 10 meetings, Liverpool are unbeaten but the aforementioned four wins are the only victories (D6).
- But Jurgen Klopp’s team are not kind to promoted sides. Under the German, Liverpool have won all 14 of their Premier League home games against promoted sides, scoring 41 goals and conceding just seven.
- West Brom do not cope well when playing reigning champions. They have lost 29 of their 34 top-flight matches against champions (W2 D3), losing 83% of their Premier League games against such sides (P24 W2 D2 L20).
- Baggies’ record against a side starting the day at the top of the table is also uninspiring, winning only once in 17 games (D4 L12) – their only win coming against Chelsea in May 2015, who had already won the title at the time.
- This will be Sam Allardyce’s 31st match in charge against Liverpool in all competitions. Only against Arsenal (34) has he managed in more games. In the past 30 meetings with Liverpool, he has won six, drawn eight and lost 16 games. However, in the last three games against the Reds, his sides have been unbeaten (W1 D2). Indeed, Sam was the last opposition manager to win a Premier League game at Anfield – with Crystal Palace in April 2017.
It was not too long ago that pundits and fans alike were queuing up to give their views on how Klopp should drop Firmino. Thankfully, the German stuck to his plans and the Reds have reaped rewards in the last two games. Firmino has contributed four goals in two games (3 scored, 1 assisted), as many as in his first 12 appearances this season (2 goals, 2 assists). His two goals and an assist against Crystal Palace on Saturday made him the first Brazilian player to reach 100 goal contributions in the Premier League. The last two games have boosted Firmino’s xG90 to 0.43 and xA90 to 0.14, indicating a 57% chance of him contributing a goal if he plays the full 90 minutes. Klopp will hope that his primary striker will continue the rich vein of form he has shown against Spurs and Palace.
Just like his manager, Branislav Ivanovic too has played a lot of games against Liverpool. If he makes an appearance on Sunday, it will be his 19th against the Reds. In the 18 previous games, the former Chelsea man has won 8, drawn 5 and lost 5, scoring thrice. The Baggies signed the 35-year old veteran from Zenit earlier this season in a hope to boost their defence. In eight appearances, his xG return has not been significant – just 0.6. However, his 282 pass attempts (242 completed) have helped carry the ball forward by 1278 yards. His experience and versatility – he was pushed up to be a left-midfielder when Jake Livermore was suspended against Villa on Tuesday night – will be key for Sam Allardyce.
For Liverpool, at the time of writing, there are no fresh injury concerns. Although Milner, Shaqiri and Thiago are expected back in training this month, it is unlikely that any of them will start on Sunday. Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on as a substitute against Palace and Klopp might want to start him, resting possibly Wijnaldum in the midfield. Upfront, he might be tempted to hand Minamino another start after he scored his debut goal against Palace. The expected line up: Alisson; Trent Alexander Arnold, Phillips, Matip, Robertson: Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita: Salah, Firmino, Minamino.
For West Brom, Jake Livermore is suspended after getting a straight red card against Aston Villa on Tuesday night. Kyle Bartley and Robson Kanu are expected to return from injury soon but may not be available on Sunday. The expected line up: Johnstone; Furlong, Ivanovic, O’Shea, Gibbs; Krovinovic, Sawyers, Gallagher; Matt Phillips, Grant, Diangana.
Sam Allardyce might feel confident being the last coach to beat the Reds at home. But the team he will face on Sunday are reigning Champions, who are chasing successive titles. Liverpool are clear favorites to win on Sunday and in this form, they should win handsomely too.
Liverpool 3 – 0 West Brom