Liverpool 2 Mané 20’, Coutinho 35
West Brom 1 McAuley 81’
While putting together this recap I saw a post on Twitter saying this was Liverpool’s first win over a Tony Pulis team in five years. I don’t know off-hand if that’s true, and a tight deadline prevents me from investigating, but if it IS true then our nervy 2-1 looks a lot better.
And really, that’s what a lot of post-match analysis boils down to: framing. A 1-0 win can be hailed as singularly heroic with the right spin. A 6-0 blowout can be damned with faint praise. The consensus seems to be that Liverpool’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion was nervy and that the victors, seemingly off their game, were a bit lucky to get all three points. And maybe that’s true. But it’s not the whole story.
Liverpool were indeed wobbly in the opening 20 minutes. West Brom were organized and disciplined, and gave no quarter. Of course they were, they’re a Tony Pulis team. Stay strong, don’t let them play, hit them on the counter or with a set piece when you get a chance. West Brom had their chances in the opening minutes and could’ve scored by for want of a final ball. A counterattack split Liverpool’s backline and nearly gave the visitors a lead but for Dejan Lovren cutting out the cross at the last moment.
But the Reds pulled themselves together, as they are wont to do these days. Some excellent build-up play in midfield bore fruit when Roberto Firmino was played through and sent a near-perfect cross over to Sadio Mané— our Man of the Match this week— for the one-touch finish. It’s the kind of goal that’s almost too perfect, the kind that almost looked rehearsed ahead of time.
15 minutes later, settled their part of the tab. Philippe Coutinho shimmied into the box from the left-hand side, dropped his shoulder and fooled Craig Dawson and Gareth McAuley, and struck inside the near post. It was a gorgeous goal made all the more noteworthy for being a seemingly rare inside-the-box goal from Coutinho.
For much of the nougaty middle of the game Liverpool’s midfield dominated the visitors, even after two midfield substitutes. Adam Lallana, on his 100th appearance for the Reds, made the team that lined up against United on Monday look like a different side. Liverpool’s forward line had plenty of opportunities to push the lead to 3 or 4, but, again, this is a Pulis team and they do not go quietly into that good night.
Yet late in the game Liverpool were undone as they so often are— from a set piece. McAuley headed in off a corner with nine minutes left in regulation, and from then to the final whistle every Liverpool fan sat on edge. We’ve seen this too often. We all dreaded the seemingly inevitable late equalizer. More dropped points at home, more smug affectations from Pulis, more what-could-have-beens. We’ve seen this terrible movie too many times.
But that’s the thing about Jürgen Klopp’s mighty mighty Reds this season. They didn’t collapse. They didn’t choke. West Brom pushed, and Liverpool bent, but they did not break. They knew they needed to hold on for at least nine minutes— it ended up being closer to twelve— and they did it. Maybe in previous seasons they would’ve folded. But not tonight. The last play of the game was Georginio Wijnaldum just barely missing out on a goal. The whistle blew and Anfield exhaled.
Liverpool may have beaten Pulis for the first time in five years. His lone comfort is that his side’s goal robbed their opposition of going top of the table. But we’re unbeaten in seven games and in the title mix right as the table starts to mean something. This was a small victory to be sure, but great teams and great seasons are built on exactly these kinds of wins. It’s all a matter of framing.