By Séamus Leonard
After a week in which Alex Ferguson’s book launch confirmed what many have suspected for a long time now (that he’s an arrogant, egotistical hypocrite in case you were wondering), a Scottish manager made of better moral fiber will bring his West Brom side to Anfield looking to continue its excellent recent form at the famous venue. The Baggies have won four of the last five league clashes between these two sides, including the last two meetings at Anfield. They have all the criteria to be considered a ‘bogey’ side for Liverpool at this stage.
Of course, West Brom boss Steve Clarke is well acquainted with the surrounds of L4, having served as assistant manager under Kenny Dalglish during the King’s brief second term as Liverpool boss. The former Chelsea right-back played a huge part in making the Reds one of the most watertight defenses in the league before he was shown the door when Brendan Rodgers took the reins. The decision to let Clarke go came back to bite Liverpool in the derrière twice last season as his Baggies side doled out a 3-0 opening-day defeat to his former club before leaving Anfield with three points in February.
The home side will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2-2 draw away to Newcastle United last Saturday. In the greater scheme of things taking a point away from Tyneside is not the worst day’s work. However, the fact that the Magpies played over half the game with only 10 men after the dismissal of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa ensured that a sense that it was two points dropped pervaded after the final whistle.
Despite both players having featured heavily for their countries in the international break prior to the game at St James’ Park, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge continued to enhance the reputation of their burgeoning partnership. Suarez won the penalty that led to Yanga-Mbiwa being red-carded, while Sturridge got on the end of a superb cross from the Uruguayan to level the game for the second time.
Liverpool’s problems are further back, however, with midfield continuing to be a problem manager Brendan Rodgers has yet to find a solution to. Lucas Leiva missed the Newcastle encounter due to the birth of his second child, and the combination of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson often found itself outnumbered and outflanked in the engine room.
Everything we have seen as Rodgers as Liverpool manager suggests he is a stubborn man who is slow to change things (not necessarily a negative trait). Therefore, he is likely to keep employing the 3-4-1-2 system that allows him to start three of his flock of center backs. It may prove to be flawed decision to play Victor Moses behind the forwards. The Nigeria international is clearly more comfortable on the wing than as a link man between midfield and attack. The idea of Gerrard sitting in there picking out the runs of Suarez and Sturridge is an attractive one but is not one Rodgers seems prepared to countenance. That being the case, surely Joe Allen would be a more viable option than Moses. The Wales international showed plenty of attacking intent in many of the pre-season games, and he could certainly do with the game time after the hamstring injury that has curtailed his involvement so far this season.
The signs are good that Philippe Coutinho will be back in contention for the Arsenal game next weekend. The Brazil international has resumed full training but is not yet ready for action following shoulder surgery in September. With this in mind, Liverpool just need to get through this game before Rodgers can get Coutinho back playing in the hole and terrorizing opposing defenses as he did in the latter half of last season.
But the Reds cannot afford to look beyond Saturday’s clash. The visitors had an indifferent start to the campaign but have since steadied the ship and lie in 12th place in the table. The highlight of their season came a few weeks ago at Old Trafford when the Baggies recorded a famous 2-1 win over Manchester United. Clarke has assembled a competitive squad, with the acquisition of Stephane Sessegnon from Sunderland looking a particularly shrewd transaction.
Liverpool, though, must concentrate on its own performance. While results have been good on the whole so far, there have been precious few impressive team displays. Rodgers is on the record as saying that winning is not merely a means to an end for him. The Northern Irishman is also bothered by the manner of how points are accumulated. Time will tell if another week on the training ground has helped to iron out any of the creases that remain in his outfit.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra, with coverage starting at 1000 EST.
Liverpool v West Bomwich Albion
When: Saturday, October 26, 1000 EST/1500 BST
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Newcastle united 2-2 Liverpool, Stoke City 0-0 West Brom
League Position 2013-14: Liverpool 3rd (17 points), West Brom 12th (10 points)
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Toure, Skrtel, Sakho
MID: Johnson, Lucas, Gerrard, Allen, Cissokho
FW: Suarez, Sturridge
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Agger, Flanagan, Ilori, Enrique, Luis Alberto, Ibe, Sterling, Moses
Projected West Brom Starting 11
DEF: Jones, Olsson, McAuley, Ridgewell
MID: Amalfitano, Mulumbu, Yacob, Sessegnon, Berahino
Subs from: Daniels, Reid, Vydra, Dawson, Morrison, Brunt, Long, Anelka
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard