Brendan Rodgers and his redmen entered the day languishing in 14th place in the Barclay's Premier League, struggling to cope with the demands enforced by injury and fixture congestion, and hot on the heels of an abject display midweek in the Champions League. Rodgers' eleven more or less selected itself, with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, and Alberto Moreno the changes from the midweek squad, with Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, and Jose Enrique rested or dropped, depending on your perspective. Raheem Sterling, he who shall not burn out, remained.
The first 44 minutes of the half were not terribly notable, although the opening minutes were refreshingly confident for Liverpool, with Lallana and Philippe Coutinho attempting—desperately—to create chances for Lambert and Sterling, with little to show for it. Rodgers noticeably swapped Coutinho and Jordan Henderson in the formation, with the Brazilian sitting deeper alongside Steven Gerrard, in an apparent attempt to provide touches and confidence to Coutinho, whilst allowing Henderson to press further up the pitch.
Rodgers mentioned before the match that Liverpool have not been recognizable lately, and the long balls played to Lambert for most of the first half did little to dispel that impression. A few three-quarter chances fell to the big number 9, Saido Berahino worked hard to create on his own up front for the Baggies, and Liverpool had a bunch of poorly executed corners. That was about it until Lallana and Henderson combined beautifully on the edge of the area, with Henderson's heel flick releasing Lallana on goal to finish coolly past Ben Foster.
From the moment the second half began it seemed clear that Lallana's goal had lifted some of the stress that had been shackling Liverpool. The passing became crisper and more incisive, and it seemed only a matter of time before Liverpool scored a second. However, Michael Oliver decided that Dejan Lovren's foul on Berahino was about a yard closer to the goal that it was in reality, awarding a penalty that was well taken by the young Englishman, and West Brom were level.
Only five minutes later, Raheem Sterling was bundled over in the opposite penalty area, but a spot kick was not awarded. The teenager did well to play on, finding Henderson who buried his first time shot to regain the lead for Liverpool, setting the Sunderland born man on a mad torrential inferno of a celebration. The next 20 minutes coaxed some excellent play from Liverpool, finally showing signs of last season's outstanding attacking verve, and although the final few minutes were expectedly nervy, the second half as a whole represented a significant improvement over recent appearances.
By no means was this a perfect performance, but three points and signs of confidence were well needed by Rodgers and the squad heading into this most necessary and enjoyable of international breaks. Adam Lallana appears to finally be fully fit and is establishing himself as a key player in this squad. He will be instrumental in Rodgers' attempts to bring the incisive attacking play of last season back to Anfield.
Other standouts on the day were Henderson, who continues to stake a claim as one of the better midfielders in the Premier League, Steven Gerrard, who seemed a bit more mobile than he has recently, and Martin Skrtel. Later on in the match Rodgers pushed Gerrard forward after bringing on Lucas to replace Coutinho, and Gerrard seemed to relish the opportunity to play closer to goal. Simon Mignolet seems to be making a more concerted effort to be aggressive on balls played into the area, and at least today it worked well.
Up top, Liverpool still seem unsure how to play with a lone, not terribly mobile striker, be it Lambert or Balotelli. Daniel Sturridge's impending return should put that discussion to bed for now, but it is an ongoing concern. Dejan Lovren is another, as he continues to be directly responsible for practically all goals conceded, regardless of the referee's mistake in this particular instance, all while looking quite shaky in the process. Javier Manquillo struggled with the ball at his feet today, giving away the ball in the lead up to the penalty and delivering several poor crosses from wide areas. Finally, Raheem Sterling looks absolutely exhausted. His touch was off today, and he too struggled despite finding himself in dangerous positions on multiple occasions. Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Roy Hodgson proves willing to do that which Rodgers refuses and rests Sterling. Don't count on it.
Ultimately, all Rodgers will care about are the three points, and though there remains room for improvement, he'll be pleased with the performance as well. Two weeks off, a return to fitness from Daniel Sturridge and Joe Allen, among others, and a good result in the back pocket will hopefully see the return of good, confident Liverpool when league play resumes away to QPR.
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