West Brom 0
It went about as expected other than some disappointing selections from Brendan Rodgers, with West Brom setting out to frustrate and Liverpool struggling to break them down for most of the 90 minutes. Rodgers shook things up a bit, going with four at the back from the start with Emre Can at right back and Glen Johnson on the left, while Steven Gerrard was at the base of a three-man midfield and Mario Balotelli, who hadn't started a match since early November, included at the point of Liverpool's attack.
What unfolded wasn't quite terrible, but it wasn't quite not terrible either. Liverpool had an absurd amount of possession and did absurdly little with it. Zero shots on target in the first half left Boaz Myhill comfortable, and they only forced him into a few second half saves. Jordon Ibe hit the crossbar, Dejan Lovren missed a late header to win it, and Liverpool's slim chances of a top four finish evaporated.
This isn't a particularly surprising outcome, and not necessarily one that offers much in the way of learning. Tony Pulis sets his teams up to frustrate the opposition whenever possible, especially when that opposition is viewed as "better" in some sense, and for 90-odd minutes they were content to pack their defensive third and give Liverpool little space to attack. It's a pragmatic, frustrating tactic, and one that Pulis teams tend to excel at.
Combined with Liverpool's inability to create much in the way of chances--both today and for most of the season--the outcome was a predictable one, which takes on a slightly harsher light given last weekend's failings. Going with Balotelli from the start was an encouraging development, and the Italian had a few bright moments, but he once again showed that, at least in this setup, he's not the one to solve Liverpool's problems.
Few look capable of doing so at the moment in attack, though Adam Lallana's introduction over the final twenty minutes of the match brought a spark with them. The oft-injured creative midfielder featured on the left, and while space was at a premium, he found ways to get involved and link play. As was the case the rest of the match, it led to nothing, and when it came close, West Brom did enough to keep the scoreline level.
Liverpool's defense was good other than a few close calls; Dejan Lovren had his best regular season performance since arriving, clearing off the line from a James Morrison header and generally looking like an actual defender for the first full match all season. Simon Mignolet goes top of the Golden Gloves table with another clean sheet, which is a remarkable accomplishment given where his season's been.
It's hard to feel much other than frustrated, though, which is exactly how is seemed for many of the Liverpool players on the day. It wasn't quite giving up, but there was a point at which it was clear they ran out of ideas, and despite their continued efforts, little looked like coming off on a day to forget.
Many had pegged this one for a match that allowed Brendan Rodgers to experiment with his side and include some of the younger talent that will be around next season, and the hope is that he'll now do so given that fourth place will be well and truly out of reach once Manchester City secure victory over Aston Villa this evening. Starting the likes of Glen Johnson--who started and inexplicably played a full 90 minutes in an advanced fullback role, finding himself far too often in a role responsible for piecing together Liverpool's attack--and Steven Gerrard offers nothing at this point, and over the final five matches of the season, that's not going to change.
Changes will be coming at some point, of course, and one is left to hope that they arrive sooner rather than later.