Liverpool made three changes from the side that beat Stoke, as Phil Coutinho and Bobby Firmino came in from the start, replacing youngsters Alexander-Arnold and Woodburn. Liverpool returned to the routine 4-3-3 as Lucas came into the defensive midfield, with Ragnar Klavan dropping out with a knee injury.
Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Lucas, Can, Wijnaldum, Firmino, Origi, Coutinho
A header from a free-kick right on half-time from Roberto Firmino proved decisive, as Liverpool ground out a 1-0 win at the Hawthorns against West Brom despite a bonkers final few minutes and two missed sitters.
It was a timid, dull first half, as West Brom successfully made the game scrappy and kept it that way before the break, but Firmino’s header opened the game up and Liverpool played some excellent football in the second half, but were ultimately unable to kill off a truly woeful West Brom team.
That’s not to say that there weren’t chances in the first half: both Firmino and Coutinho were able to break into the box on the left hand side, but failed to hit the target with left footed shots. However, it was West Brom who had the best chances of the first half, with the pick of them falling to Nacer Chadli, who missed the ball completely from six yards when all he needed to do was stroke in. But Hal Robson-Kanu had a couple of chances too, shooting wide from a few yards early on and slashing straight at Simon Mignolet when freed later on in the half.
But it was Firmino who struck the decisive blow with almost the last kick of the first half. Milner’s poor free kick was brilliantly flicked on by Lucas, and Firmino peeled off his marker to bury the header from six yards.
If the second half was a drab affair, things opened up considerably in the second, as Liverpool took control of the game. Firmino, inspired by his goal, was the star of the show, but Lucas and Can in the midfield were also excellent.
Liverpool’s big chance came when a clever pass from Wijnaldum freed Firmino, whose delightful clipped cross landed nicely for James Milner, who fired over from six yards. Whilst this miss wasn’t quite as bad as Lallana’s against Man City, it was very close. And just a few minutes later, a lovely ball from Lucas found Firmino, whose headed pass to Origi resulted in the Belgian striker scoring, only for it to be chalked off, with Firmino marginally offside.
However, the Reds did not have things entirely their own way, as West Brom piled the pressure on late on, and after substitute Rondon turned Matip and freed Phillips, Simon Mignolet was forced into making a huge save to keep his side in front.
And the game descended into carnage in the final few minutes, as Ben Foster threw himself into Liverpool’s box. Alberto Moreno broke hard and fast, but rather than freeing Emre Can or Daniel Sturridge for tap-ins, he decided to shoot from 40 yards, and the ball flew wide. With 90 seconds on the clock, it was a disgraceful lack of judgement that mercifully didn’t cost Liverpool two points.
Overall, this was a highly impressive, well-fought performance. A lacklustre first half transcended into an excellent second half, and Liverpool are three points and one game closer to a top four finish and Champions League football.
Key Talking Points:
1. Firmino and Mignolet the men for the big occasion again
Last weekend, Liverpool’s two match-winners were Roberto Firmino and Simon Mignolet, whose goal and big save respectively proved decisive. It was the exact same story in this game, as Firmino scored the only goal of the match, albeit a header from six yards rather than a screamer, and Mignolet made a massive save with ten minutes left to deny Phillips. Moreover, both men had fantastic games, as Firmino was the best player on the pitch and Mignolet dominated his area like we’ve never seen from him before.
2. Can and Lucas imperious at the dirty work
Whilst Firmino was Liverpool’s star performer on the ball, both Lucas Leiva and Emre Can were vital in winning the midfield battle. Both tackled hard, intercepted the ball and won the ball in the air, as well as running and passing. Lucas in particular come under fire at times this season but he was vital as West Brom threatened to turn the game into a scrap for larger periods of the game and he and Can made sure that Liverpool held their own in that scrap. The fact that Lucas’ header led to Liverpool being the ones scoring off a set piece is a delicious irony against a Tony Pulis side.
3. Klopp back to basics as Liverpool win ugly
With Klavan out injured, Klopp returned to basic tactics, and his basic battle plan. 4-3-3, with the threat coming through Firmino and Coutinho, and the key being winning the midfield battle. And whilst Liverpool have started finding ways to win ugly, few games will have been uglier than this one, as Liverpool went toe-to-toe with Tony Pulis’ West Brom at their own game, and managed to win it, whilst at times rising above it in an impressive second half.
Simon Mignolet – 8/10: Was barely called into action before the 75 minute mark, but when he was tested in the second half he came up trumps. Made so many crucial punches from set pieces, and most importantly of all, made a big save when called upon to do so.
Nathaniel Clyne – 7/10: Clyne was more defensive than usual, particularly in the second half, but that’s the side of his game that he excels in. Plenty of strong tackles and clearances, and only caught out once, when Phillips managed to get in behind him.
Joel Matip – 7/10: Very impressive. Strode forward magnificently with the ball at his feet, won just about everything and made some truly wonderful tackles. Would have scored higher but gave away a silly free kick early on in the second half and was turned far too easily for Rondon to slide in Phillips.
Dejan Lovren – 5/10: Poor today. Very nearly gifted West Brom a goal as he miscontrolled an attempted back pass, was caught out of position for Robson-Kanu to sneak in behind him on multiple occasions and produced some really sloppy first half passing.
James Milner – 4/10: Similar to Lovren, but with the added bonus of missing an absolute sitter that would have won the game for his team. Gave the ball away cheaply, caught out of position and made poor decisions. Struggling at left back.
Lucas Leiva – 8/10: Brilliant performance. Assist under his belt, made huge tackles and interceptions, kept the ball tidily and played a wonderful pass leading to Liverpool’s disallowed goal. Showing that he still has a role to play in defensive midfield.
Emre Can – 8/10: Won so many big headers, tackled hard in midfield, kept the ball moving and played some good football. This is the sort of scrap where Can excels and is establishing himself as a really classy box to box midfielder.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 7/10: I was going to give Gini a 6 overall, as I thought his performance was quiet if unspectacular, after an anonymous first half. But he had one or two huge moments late on, and his pass to free Firmino for the Milner chance was exceptional.
Roberto Firmino – 9/10: Bobby was on another level in this game. Apart from scoring the winning goal he played five key passes, including a stunning pass to gift Milner a sitter, completed five take-ons, the most of any player, was calm and composed on the ball, pressed like mad and won the ball twice in West Brom’s half. He even got a vital touch on the ball to put off Chadli when he missed his sitter. Almost perfect from Firmino.
Divock Origi – 7/10: Really strong performance from Origi. His hold-up play was exceptional given how little he was given to work with at times, and he worked as hard as anyone to keep Liverpool on the front foot. Didn’t really get a goalscoring chance.
Phillipe Coutinho – 6/10: Couts’ confidence was clearly high as he slalomed through West Brom’s defence, but his decision-making was poor as he reverted to his tactic of shooting whenever he got within 25 yards of goal. It looks stunning when it hits the net, but when it hits Row Z it’s wasteful.
Daniel Sturridge – N/A: Didn’t have any chance to make an impact after coming on.
Alberto Moreno – 1/10: Did have one huge chance to make an impact after coming on and managed to produce a moment so selfish and braindead I’m still angry about it.
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Written by Tom Holmes