Yesterday's results were exceptionally kind to Liverpool, as United drifted further off the pace with a loss at Stoke, while Spurs drew at Hull. They were the type of results that you'd hope would push Liverpool forward, especially on the heels of the resounding derby win midweek, but today's performance at West Brom indicated otherwise. Tired legs, ineffective going forward, and generally poor, Liverpool fail to capitalize on their good fortune in a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns.
West Brom 1: Anichebe 67'
Liverpool 1: Sturridge 24'
Brendan Rodgers went with the same eleven as he did in the derby, with Philippe Coutinho operating deeper in the midfield and each of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge spending time on the flank opposite Raheem Sterling. Steven Gerrard continued in his deeper-lying role behind Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, while Joe Allen made the bench for the first time in weeks.
The first half was exceptionally poor from both sides other than the Sturridge goal; West Brom didn't piece much together going forward, but Liverpool failed to replicate their fluid attacking display from Tuesday, with Suarez looking off and neither of Sturridge nor Coutinho having much of an influence. The lone bright spot for all three came when Liverpool took the lead on 24 minutes, as Coutinho slipped Sterling in behind the West Brom defense, and after stalling slightly, the young winger played Suarez into space on the right. The Uruguayan didn't look to have much space for a cross, but he threaded a perfect ball toward the far post for Sturridge to touch in for the opener.
With a lead out of nothing you might have expected Liverpool to continue pushing on, but they mostly kept a defensive shell for the remainder of the half and well into the second. They nearly made it two when Suarez beat Diego Lugano on a bouncing ball over the top, but Ben Foster saved well on the low shot to keep the hosts' deficit to one.
That save would prove important for West Brom, who finally beat Simon Mignolet in the 67th minute after the Belgian had earlier made two impressive saves. Mignolet rolled it to Kolo Toure just outside Liverpool's penalty area, and the defender thoughtlessly passed back across the middle, effectively playing Victor Anichebe in on goal. He took one touch before hitting a low shot past Mignolet, who couldn't recover in time, to level the match and ultimately leave the points shared.
The missed opportunity is what bothers most; Kolo Toure's error had shades of Martin Skrtel against Manchester City last season to it, but that didn't come in the midst of a genuine challenge for Champions League football. This one likely won't determine whether or not Liverpool finish the season in the top four, but it was a chance to nudge further past their direct rivals, and by that standard it was a failure.
Nearly all involved were to blame, though Toure's mistake gets top billing. As mentioned above, Suarez, Sturridge, and Coutinho were not at their best, while Jordan Henderson put in a tired display centrally. Jon Flanagan came back to Earth and Aly Cissokho faded after a bright first half, while Toure and Martin Skrtel again looked solid in flashes but worryingly vulnerable once again.
Raheem Sterling mostly continued his good work on the flank, however, and Steven Gerrard mostly kept to his duties deeper in central midfield capably. Simon Mignolet had the two aforementioned saves and couldn't do anything on Anichebe's strike--some have been quick to blame him for rolling out to Kolo Toure, but there were plenty of options available to the defender that didn't involve passing it into open space 18 yards in front of an empty goal.
Bad timing for a reminder of this squad's deficiencies, but not necessarily damning. Hopefully with six days off there's rested legs and returns from injury (it was nice to see Joe Allen even though he had little influence), as Liverpool are going to need to be much, much better if they're going to get anything from Arsenal's visit next Saturday.