The only bright spot to Liverpool losing against Newcastle last weekend was that most of their direct rivals dropped points as well. While the failure to capitalize on this opportunity stings, it also means that Liverpool's defeat didn't put them that far off the pace either. They're six points off of top four, and although they've dropped to ninth place again, the table is tight enough that that only puts them three points away from fifth place Spurs.
All of which brings us to Sunday when Liverpool host West Brom at Anfield. This season Liverpool have found the lower teams more difficult to overcome. After they embarrassed the current titleholders, Chelsea, and the dangerous Manchester City, they lost to Crystal Palace and Newcastle. Winning consecutive games in several different competitions is good and speaks to the depth and talent of the squad. However, if Liverpool harbor any hope of making it into the top four, they will need to perform consistently in the league and win the their games against teams in the bottom half of the table.
When the fixture list was released last June, most people pinpointed the stretch of games between August and November as being where Liverpool would face the most difficulty. Out of the series of trying away fixtures that Liverpool faced during that time -- Stoke, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City -- they only lost one, to Manchester United back in mid-September. Both with Rodgers and now Klopp, the problem has been the home fixtures that, on paper, should be easier.
Tony Pulis's West Brom will put the onus on Liverpool the whole game to try and break down their well-trained defense. The visitors will come in having been unbeaten in the last three games, including a victory against Arsenal. Liverpool will need to utilize the considerable creativity at their disposal in order to get around them. A performance similar to the one against Newcastle will not be anywhere near good enough. The team that demolished Southampton in the league cup, that converted nearly every one of their goal scoring opportunities, will need to turn up at Anfield on Sunday.
The problem, of course, is that Daniel Sturridge, who scored a brace in that game and is far and away Liverpool's biggest goal scoring threat, has once again been felled by injury. Klopp will have to choose between some combination of Benteke, Origi, and Firmino to lead the line on Sunday. The good news is that Philippe Coutinho, who had been on a hot streak prior to his injury, will once again be available for this match.
West Brom will be without the services of Stephane Sessegnon, who went off injured against Spurs last weekend. Pulis will likely prefer Craig Gardner to take his place on the right, but Sessegnon has been an important cog in the Pulis machine for the last several games, so it will be interesting to see how they perform without him. Interesting, also, to see how Liverpool exploit the weakness of West Brom's right flank without him there. Rondon will lead the line, and Yacob, back from suspension, should resume his role as defensive midfielder. Like any Tony Pulis team, the Baggies will look to score goals off of set pieces, which should make Liverpool fans nervous, thanks to the team's less-than-confident defending on corners.
Clyne/ Škrtel/ Lovren/ Moreno
Lallana/ Firmino/ Coutinho
With Sakho still injured, the back five once again picks itself. Emre Can resumes league action after serving his suspension against Newcastle. We may see Lucas get a break here, in favor of Jordan Henderson's more attack minded contributions in midfield. Of course, it's likely that starting two games in a week may be too much of an ask for the captain, in which case Lucas will keep his place. The combination of Lallana, Firmino, and Coutinho could be the creative spark that Liverpool need to see through this match. Benteke will likely be given a chance to redeem himself after a less-than-impressive match against Newcastle last weekend. We may also see Jordon Ibe return to the starting line-up, since he's said to have recovered from the illness that kept him out of the game against Sion.
Mamadou Sakho continues his recovery on schedule and may be ready to return as early as next weekend (!!!). Daniel Sturridge has another week out until his customary two games played in a row. Jon Flanagan remains three weeks away from fitness, which means seeing him on the pitch before the new year might not happen. Danny Ings and Joe Gomez won't feature again this season, thanks to their respective knee injuries.
Kickoff is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST Sunday. Television coverage will be on NBC Sports Network in the US. Elsewhere, Fox Sports 3 and Foxtel Play Australia in Australia, Sportsnet World Now and Sportsnet One in Canada, Star Sports 2 Asia in India, SuperSport 5 Africa in Kenya, Astro SuperSport in Malaysia, and 103 (hd) mio Stadium in Singapore are carrying the match. Sorry, my UK friends, looks like Sky Sports won't be covering this one. You can find other listings at LiveSoccerTV. Online streaming is also available with NBC Sports Extra in the US and Sky GO Extra in the UK. For Online radio, fans worldwide can check out LFCTV GO and TalkSport Radio World.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.