In the end it all looked very easy, and aside from ten-minute spell around West Brom's incorrectly-awarded penalty, it was. Liverpool have Luis Suarez to thank for much of that, as well as a rejuvenated midfield and Daniel Sturridge's late lobbed effort--probably the most impressive goal on a day full of them--that killed the match off. It was close to Liverpool's best performance of the season, and certainly the closest they've come to turning in a full 90 minutes. Ahead of next weekend's visit to North London, this was a timely boost.
Liverpool 4: Suarez 12' 17' 55', Sturridge 77'
West Brom 1: Morrison (pen.) 66'
The change we wanted was partially addressed, with Victor Moses dropping out and Lucas coming in, but with no other alterations to the shape or personnel, it meant that one of Steven Gerrard or Jordan Henderson would be operating as the number ten. As it turned out, they mostly interchanged going forward, providing cover for one another as needed, effectively turning Liverpool's midfield into a very real, very good thing for one of the first times this season.
That would prove important as the side pressed harder and higher than they had in weeks, with Lucas in a deeper role than he'd had alongside Gerrard. The early going was back and forth until Suarez took over, first nutmegging Jonas Olsson on the edge of the West Brom area and rolling past Boaz Myhill with a superb solo effort, one that deservedly embarrassed Olsson after he tried to stand over Suarez just minutes earlier.
The Uruguayan's second was even better, this time heading a curling effort past Myhill into the top corner from 18 yards out. Aly Cissokho's determined work on the left produced a firm cross, and an audacious header from Suarez was rewarded with his second goal in just over five minutes. It was a sublime effort, one that few would try let alone execute, and it left Liverpool in cruise control for the rest of the first half until Martin Skrtel forced himself into a last-ditch clearance after nervously botching a long ball over the top for Nicolas Anelka.
It looked to be done and dusted on 55 minutes when Suarez polished off his hat-trick with a free header on a curling Gerrard free-kick delivery, but a comically bad penalty call at the other end by linesman Lee Betts--and the well-taken spot kick by James Morrison--gave West Brom a view back into the match, and the pressure nearly told during a ten-minute spell that saw the visitors push further forward in attack.
Thankfully it wasn't just the Luis Suarez show, and with just over ten minutes left Daniel Sturridge put any West Brom threat to rest, lofted a perfectly-placed shot over Myhill and into the near-side corner. It was a stunning strike, and one that immediately washed away both the striker's building frustrations and any worries about Liverpool dropping points.
Not to be outdone, Rodgers replaced Gerrard with Joe Allen for the final five minutes, a move more shocking than anything Suarez or Sturridge could have managed in this or any match.
Well that turned out to be a lot of fun, didn't it? When Luis Suarez is on that type of goalscoring form (and he very well could have had a brilliant fourth if it wasn't for Myhill's save on his improvised overhead kick) , Liverpool can throw some wonderful parties, and they rarely disappointed in any facet of the game. It was, as noted above, close to a near-complete performance, with only a ten-minute shutoff preventing it from being as total a display as they've managed in awhile. That dread we felt pre-match never felt justified, and while most everyone was playing backup to Suarez, few had anything other than very good performances.
With every match that passes Rodgers' assertions about the quality of his forward pairing are truer and truer; there are signs of a genuine partnership and understanding to go along with a not-so-subtle competition for goals brewing. As it stands, they're an electric pairing that have found a wonderful balance of support and antagonism, and as long as that balance remains, they're the best in the league, even on a day when Sturridge's touch was found wanting at times.
It's important that the return of an actual midfield doesn't get overshadowed by the dominance of Suarez and Sturridge, especially ahead of next weekend's trip to the league leaders. Lucas in a deeper role was a completely different--and far better--player, and each of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson performed admirably further forward. Henderson was uncharacteristically sloppy at times but more than made up for it with his tireless pressing, and the captain had one of his better displays of the season in a freer midfield role.
Defensively things weren't quite a shiny, with Martin Skrtel and Aly Cissokho proving shaky at times and Simon Mignolet again flapping on more than one occasion. Mamadou Sakho continues to impress, however, as does Kolo Toure, and while Glen Johnson's knee injury worries, he was excellent both before and after picking up a knock. Nice to see Martin Kelly back in action even if he was a passenger for most of the time he was on, and the Joe Allen sighting was most welcome.
Ultimately, it proved a very good day, and one that can give Liverpool plenty of confidence heading into the trip to the Emirates. Depending on the result of tomorrow's Chelsea v. Manchester City match, it could be the league's top two teams facing off with a quarter of the season gone. Early days still, but days we can enjoy nonetheless, and ones that hopefully prove to be part of a long and successful progression at Liverpool.