West Brom 0
West Brom ride their discipline, luck and the back of the referee on their way to a heroic 0-0 draw at Anfield.
Six changes to the home side this time round, as Simon Mignolet is ruled out with an ankle injury, prompting Loris Karius’ return. Trent Alexander-Arnold replaced Joe Gomez at right-back, while Emre Can occupied the single pivot. The attacking quartet of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah made only their second league start of the season, raising expectations of a goal-fest.
Naturally, no such thing would occur. The visitors came with the same plan they always do, regardless of who manages them; sit deep in a 4-5-1, press aggressively in their own final third, and rely on a big target man to toss opposition defenders around and create counter opportunities.
In the first half, the strategy was a success, and Liverpool’s deadly attack was only able to create two proper opportunities. In the 17th minute, a diagonal Salah through ball somehow found its way through every Baggie body, arriving at Firmino’s left foot at the back post. The Brazilian forward went for a first time finish from the narrow angle rather than the cutback to a wide open Coutinho, but the ball snuck agonizingly past the far post.
The second chance arrived three minutes from time, as Firmino cut inside his marker and drove a shot at goal, only for it to be blocked by a defender. Salah’s effort from the rebound suffered a similar fate, as the visitors did well to get bodies between the shooter and their own goal.
Beyond that, the Reds lacked precision when presented with good counter opportunities, and Hal Robson-Kanu struck a 30 yarder off Karius’ crossbar.
Compared to the tedium of the opening frame, the second half was pure pandemonium, and it started terribly for the Reds. A series of set pieces — starting with a wind-assisted free kick that nearly caught Karius out — saw the Baggies inch their way closer to a score, and the German did well to parry Claudio Yacob’s header from six yards. On the very next corner, WBA went close again, this time through Ahmed Hegazy, who headed well over at the back post.
The game then swung the other way, as the home side lay siege to the opposition box. Salah just missed a critical touch on a Coutinho chip, Mané put an effort a yard wide after a one-two with Firmino, and Salah headed a gorgeous Alexander-Arnold cross off the mark rather than letting it run to a better placed Mané.
At this point, Premier League freshman Paul Tierney decided it was time to insert himself into the action. Having punished Ben Foster’s blatant time-wasting in the first half with a 30 second chat and one minute of injury time, he failed to call a blatant back pass from Hegazi to Foster in the six yard box. The 36-year old would return to the fray soon.
Georginio Wijnaldum then failed to convert a gift, as Foster punched a shot up in the air, only to fail his attempted catch, dropping the ball in the six yard box. Wijnaldum made contact, but it wasn’t solid enough, and Johnny Evans was able to clear the ball off his line, sparing his goalkeeper’s blushes.
That halted the Reds’ momentum, and their fifteen-minute frenzy fizzled out. Substitutions were made, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke coming on for Mané and Wijnaldum, but nothing of note would take place until Tierney saw another chance to shine, ten minutes from time.
Solanke converted a deflected cross into the back of the net, but saw his first Premier League goal chalked off as the ball had touched his arm before crossing the line. It was a dubious — if not outright wrong -- decision, made all the more vexing by the ignored backpass earlier in the frame, and the two nothingburger penalties the Reds had conceded in previous games.
There would be time for another frustrating moment, as Oxlande-Chamberlain found himself in acres of space at the back post, but was let down by his touch, only for Solanke to waste time when presented with the rebound ten yards out. The Baggies held onto possession by fishing for fouls, and the discouraged Reds obliged them as time ran out.
So after a run of stunning offensive momentum, the Reds run cold again, missing massive chances and dropping points in consecutive games. Where they could comfortably share third place with Chelsea had they been even moderately effective in the past week, they instead drop out of the top four.
The performances haven’t been terrible, however, and the dropped points have mostly been an issue of some sloppy finishing and antagonistic refereeing conspiring against the Anfield outfit. West Brom did what they wanted to do well, but were unable to shut the Liverpool attack down completely, and rode their luck more than once to maintain their clean sheet, just as Everton did mid-week.
Chances are being created, and one would bet on this formidable attacking force finding their shooting boots again, in other words. The only question is whether they will do so sooner rather than later, and the away clash with Bournemouth on Sunday would be the perfect time. So, that, please.