There’s been a few instances this season where Liverpool have scrapped along the bottom of the barrel, but many of them were quickly forgotten; for me, the opening day defeat to Steve Clarke’s West Brom still rankles to this day.
Sure the Baggies went on to be the surprise package of the first half of the season, recording wins against Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea on their way to establishing a secure place in the top half of the table, though the Midlands club has started to feel the strain of the campaign setting in and are winless in their last eight outings. If that sounds like the perfect time to pile some misery on the visitors while securing our own three points, then we’re certainly on the same wavelength.
After running out a pair of draws against Manchester City and Arsenal, we’ve got ourselves a hard fought pair of points. Although they were good results in and of themselves, it’s all feels a bit harsh looking back on it considering we dropped the points on both occasions from winning positions. If you’re feeling a bit flustered as a result — and I’m sure the squad feels the same — they’ll be happy to work out some of that frustration out on the Baggies.
Steve Clarke has stepped out of the shadow of Kenny Dalglish and has shown that he has his own two feet to stand on. While the Liverpool assistant manager was well respected around Anfield, taking on the West Brom job was the right move for the former Chelsea man and although he’s better known for his defensive work, he’s shown a sharp tactical eye all across the pitch in his first season at the Hawthorns. He’s certainly extracting the best out of on loan striker Romelu Lukaku and Irish international Shane Long who have both found the net nine times this season.
The fact that the Baggies aren’t mixing it up with the relegation fodder in February gives the faithful hope of something more than just survival. I’m certain we’re all tired of hearing about Peter Odemwingie and his deadline day drama with QPR, but the want away striker isn’t the only headline in town with defender Goran Popov starting a three match suspension for spitting at Tottenham player Kyle Walker during his sides loss to Spurs last time out. A side that’s even a little unsettled can put a kink in even the best laid plans and Brendan Rodgers will be looking to take full advantage as his boys look to start climbing the table.
Both Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling pulled out of International Duty with knocks for the meaningless midweek friendlies and will have last minute assessments ahead of the match. Fabio Borini may find his way back into the starting line up as a straight swap out for Sturridge if the England striker isn’t ready for a return. The Italian has had a rough start to his Anfield career with a long injury lay-off though a run out against West Brom may help him rediscover the kind of form he enjoyed under Rodgers at Swansea. Luis Suarez is expected to continue in the play maker role just behind the striker and Borini’s intelligent running could prove pivotal in creating room in what’s sure to be a packed final third for the tricky Uruguayan to operate in.
Jamie Carragher, who announced his intentions to retire at the end of the season, could keep his place over Martin Skrtel as his performances against Manchester City and Arsenal peeled back the years to show the boss — and many of the doubting fans — that there’s still premium gas left in the tank. Keeping the ball out of the net is just as important as putting it in at the other end and Lucas continues to play such an important role in both. It’s expected that he’ll be tasked with keeping James Morrison under wraps and making sure Steven Gerrard is able to spray the ball around at will.
As we get into the business end of the season, if the top four finish that we’re supposedly targeting is to come to fruition, we’re going to have to start winning matches. The results against Arsenal and Manchester City were more than acceptable, but two points from what should have been six doesn’t exactly help the cause. With the exception of Tottenham in the middle of March and Chelsea near the end of April, we’ve got a relatively favorable run in of games that could either catapult us up the table or relegate us to another mediocre league finish. There’s nothing we can do about what came before; the season starts on Monday.