By Christopher Boulay
The turbulent summer in Liverpool is quickly approaching a crescendo, as the transfer window will be closed in a fortnight, and the club is finally playing Premier League football again. Manager Brendan Rodgers leads the Reds into The Hawthorns this weekend to play West Bromwich Albion.
The match could be a tricky one for Liverpool, as there is a familiar face on the other side of the pitch.
Liverpool will meet former assistant manager Steve Clarke, as he will take the reigns at The Hawthorns only a couple of months after parting ways with the club following Kenny Dalglish’s removal. Clarke’s knowledge of Liverpool could cause major problems during the match. Cohesion in Rodgers’ new system will be important, and the impact of the new boys will likely be vital.
Under Rodgers, the club has experienced quite the clear-out, as Craig Bellamy, Alberto Aquilani, Fabio Aurelio, Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt, Stephen Darby and Toni Silva all left in one manner or another during the transfer window. Replacements haven’t been numerous, but the club is beginning to take shape. Forward Fabio Borini and midfielder Joe Allen could both be huge contributors from the outset, and both should play a role during the season opener. In addition, Liverpool recently signed Oussama Assaidi from Dutch side Heerenveen, and the winger will help provide depth on the wing.
Other signings are expected as well, and there is an air of cautious optimism among Liverpool fans. Improved form toward the end of the preseason helps further that hope, as Rodgers’ 4-3-3 not only offers an attractive footballing brand, but it also may help the club make the jump it needs to get back into European relevancy and title contention.
Liverpool will be desperate for attacking cohesion to arrive as soon as possible, and the wins against Gomel and Bayer Leverkusen suggested this may actually be on its way. However, there is much work to do if the club is to improve upon last season’s eighth-place finish.
Pepe Reina will likely be boosted by a full first-choice back four for the match, while the defensive unit will be further strengthened by Lucas Leiva’s return to Premier League action since his injury last season.
Steven Gerrard will likely feature in a central position, with either Allen or Jonjo Shelvey on the right. Since Allen has not yet made an appearance with the club and played extensively for Wales mid-week on international duty, Rodgers could very well decide to ease him into the squad.
Suarez, Borini and Stewart Downing will likely lead the attack against the Baggies, with the Uruguayan looking to open his account for the season as soon as possible. Both Borini and Downing got on the score sheet during Liverpool’s aggregate victory against FC Gomel, which helped give the club a date against Heart of Midlothian in the Europa League play-off round later this month.
West Brom will look quite different this season, as the club rid itself of many players, while getting a few in that could really help the side make a push further into the top 10. Some big names moved on, such as Irish internationals Keith Andrews and Simon Cox, as the two both left to play in The Championship. Additionally, Nicky Shorey signed with newly-promoted Reading, while Paul Scharner left for Hamburg.
The Baggies were able to strengthen with Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku on a season-long loan. The attack was boosted by the signing of former Werder Bremen striker Markus Rosenberg, as well as another loan deal for Gent’s Yassine El Ghanassy. Ben Foster, who was on loan to the Midlands club from Birmingham City last season, signed for £4 million during the summer. Argentine international Claudio Yacob joined the club in order to be a boost for the club in the absence of Scharner.
Clarke’s side will need a strong match from forward Peter Odemwingie, who led the club in scoring with 11 goals last season. The Nigerian international, now 31 years old, has been impressive for the club in the two years since he joined from Lokomotiv Moscow.
West Brom has been in good form, as of late. While losing to Swedish side Malmo FF in mid-July, the club turned it around by defeating FC Copenhagen, drawing Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday, as well as defeating Walsall and Nottingham Forest.
However, the club may be without Graham Dorrans, who has taken a leave of absence from the club due to the illness of his young daughter.
West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
When: Saturday, August 18, 1000 EST/1500 GMT
Where: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
League Position 2011-12: Liverpool eighth (52 points), WBA 10th (47 points)
Projected WBA Starting 11
DEF: Reid, McAuley, Tamas, Jones
MID: Mulumbu, Brunt, El Ghanassy
FW: Odemwingie, Long, Gera
Subs from: Myhill, Dorrans, Morrison, Thomas, Ridgewell, Dawson, Jones, Allan, Yacob, Lukaku, Fortune, Wood
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique
MID: Lucas, Gerrard, Shelvey
FW: Borini, Suarez, Downing
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Coates, Flanagan, Carragher, Robinson, Spearing, Allen, Adam, Henderson, Sterling, Cole, Assaidi, Carroll
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.