Premier League | The Hawthorns | Sun 2 Feb | 1:30pm
The Premier League’s freewheelers: goals at one end, gaffes at the other, with plenty of nice play in between. And Liverpool.
As FFT sat down to batter 500 words of allegedly witty, terse and vivid prose into its ailing computer, it took a moment to consider West Brom. Decent side, we thought. Easy on the eye, if a little brittle at the back, with a goalscorer needed. Then we looked at the table. The Baggies have won just four games, with one victory in their last 13 attempts.
WEST BROM FORM
- Aston Villa 4–3 WBA (Prem)
- So'ton 1–0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0–2 Palace (FAC)
- WBA 1–0 Newcastle (Prem)
- West Ham 3–3 WBA (Prem)
- Liverpool 4–0 Everton (Prem)
- Bournemouth 0–2 Liverpool (FAC)
- Liverpool 2–2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Stoke 3–5 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 2–0 Oldham (FAC)
Whatever way you look at it, that’s relegation form, a record that new manager Pepe Mel must quickly reverse. Yes, that run has yielded six draws, but it’s wins that matter come the season’s end. Two up inside nine minutes against Aston Villa midweek, Diego Lugano, in particular, struggled to provide the necessary solidity to shut the game out in losing 4-3.
Perhaps surprisingly for a coach that operated almost exclusively with two defensive midfielders in La Liga, Mel has opted for a 4-4-2 in his two league games at the helm. But the ease with which Villa found the net may encourage the Spaniard to revert to Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu as a midfield screen and push James Morrison forward.
With Nicolas Anelka injured, Victor Anichebe must channel a mountainous physique into an equally imposing performance and take advantage of Chris Brunt’s delicious left-foot delivery.
Scoring three and still losing is a crime. Not a serious as, you know, murder, but still pretty bad.
Whatever Mel decides, the Baggies must switch on defensively. Once again Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge proved the catalyst to a Liverpool victory in Tuesday’s Merseyside derby. A 4-0 victory provides breathing space to Everton and Spurs, following the Londoners' 5-1 home defeat to league leaders Manchester City, in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Yet for a manager who came to Merseyside professing a desire to dominate teams, Brendan Rodgers might be surprised to learn that the Everton win was a triumph of clinical counter-attacking. Liverpool had only 39% of the ball, but it was the home side’s nine shots on target that proved the difference.
The Reds were 4-1 victors at Anfield earlier in the season, but their record against their Black Country opponents is far from perfect: three wins, three defeats. In short, given Liverpool’s defensive injuries and general incompetence – midweek was their second clean sheet in their last seven Premier League games – a goal-laden win for either side could be on the cards.
West Brom will be without forwards Anelka (knee) and Stephane Sessegnon (groin).
Liverpool are missing Mamadou Sakho (hamstring), Daniel Agger (calf), Lucas (knee), Glen Johnson (ankle), plus long-term knee absentees Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates.
Key battle: Claudio Yacob vs Philippe Coutinho
Restored to his preferred playmaker’s role against Everton – with Sturridge moving in off the left wing to devastating effect – Coutinho was much improved on Tuesday. Despite West Brom’s defensive struggles, Yacob topped the Midlands derby’s ball recoveries and tackles. If West Brom are to get a result, the 26-year-old Argentine must prevent Coutinho creating as much mayhem as he managed in his own derby.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Liverpool 4–1 WBA (Prem, Oct 13)
- Liverpool 0–2 WBA (Prem, Feb 13)
- WBA 1–2 Liverpool (LC, Sep 12)
- WBA 3–0 Liverpool (Prem, Aug 12)
- Liverpool 0–1 WBA (Prem, Apr 12)
Both canny tacticians capable of altering the course of a game, Mel and Rodgers should have an intriguing dugout battle.
The Spaniard may still be finding his Premier League feet, but 90 minutes against the usually possession-hungry Liverpool will be a welcome reminder of his native land.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Liverpool have only failed to score in 1 of their last 13 Premier League away games and have netted 33 in that run.
- The Reds have kept just 1 clean sheet in their last 10 trips on the road and conceded 20 times in those matches.
- Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have played a combined 33 Premier League games this season and scored 36 goals.
- Daniel Sturridge has found the net in 12 of his 15 Premier League appearances for Liverpool this season.
- Liverpool have scored 37 first half goals this season, 10 more than West Brom have in total (27) in 2013/14.
- Liverpool have made fewer substitutions than any other Premier League side this season (53).
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Liverpool to win, but concede. 1-3.