West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool: A return to the banality of actual football

Photo courtesy of liverpoolfc.com

Photo courtesy of liverpoolfc.com

By Séamus Leonard

After yet another (insert whatever adjective suits your own ends here) transfer deadline day, the Premier League trundles on with fans being subjected to the banality of actual action after Friday’s extravaganza of Twitter rumors and yellow Sky Sports graphics.

The transfer window is probably a necessary evil, but the ‘glamour’ and ‘excitement’ of the final day has long since evaporated. Liverpool’s quest to sign Yehven Konoplyanka from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk ended in failure, with Ian Ayre’s air miles account the only beneficiary from three days of talks in Ukraine.

While questions have to be asked of Liverpool’s ability to close out such deals, the bigger mystery is why Konoplyanka, and before him Mohamed Salah, were the club’s only serious transfer targets.

Hidden in the joy of Tuesday’s memorable 4-0 victory over Everton was the fact that Liverpool would have been up a feces-filled creek if either of its central midfielders, Steven Gerrard or Jordan Henderson, had been forced off through injury. With Lucas Leiva out with a knee injury and Joe Allen not considered sufficiently recovered from his latest niggle (hamstring), the Reds were left perilously short of central midfield options.

Photo courtesy of liverpoolfc.com

Photo courtesy of liverpoolfc.com

Surely that is the primary area Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and the transfer committee needed to address. Rodgers said many times during the window that he wanted to bring in individuals who would make an immediate impact on the first team, and not just squad players or a short-term fix. That’s all very laudable, but his stance will be made to look foolish if Liverpool end up relying on 16-year-old Jordan Rossiter to fill in for key games before the end of what looks increasingly like a defining season for the Merseysiders.

But what’s done is done. The reality is that Liverpool remains in fourth place in the league with a favorable fixture list ahead. So Champions League qualification is in its own hands…for now. Kopites can only hope that the likes of Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Lucas and Jose Enrique will return from injury as soon as possible, and that Luis Suarez, in particular, stays fit and healthy from now until May.

The news that Allen is fit enough to return to the squad for Sunday’s game is a boost, though it is unlikely the Wales international will be rushed straight back into the starting line-up. Rodgers likes a settled side, and it would be uncharacteristic of him to drop anyone after Tuesday night’s result and performance at Anfield. Even the much-maligned Aly Cissokho had a decent game, though his distribution left a lot to be desired. The only change you could envisage is the dropping of Cissokho, who Rodgers clearly has no faith in, with Martin Kelly coming in at right-back and Jon Flanagan moving over to the left side of defense.

While Liverpool was busy in midweek collecting the bragging rights on Merseyside, West Brom was enduring a Midlands derby defeat to Aston Villa. The Baggies put themselves in a brilliant position by going 2-0 up at Villa Park, but they eventually lost out by the odd goal in a seven-goal thriller.

The hosts are still adjusting to life under new manager Pepe Mel, but they did hold Everton to a 1-1 draw in their last game at The Hawthorns and the Spaniard would be more than likely happy with a point from this encounter. The Baggies will need to at their best defensively, however, as their attacking options are limited by the enforced absence of Nicolas Anelka (knee) and Stephane Sessegnon (groin). Striker Thievy Bifouma was signed on loan from Espanyol before the transfer deadline, though the France U-21 international will hardly be parachuted straight into the first 11.

With massive home ties against Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea on the horizon, this is an away game Liverpool simply cannot afford to take less than three points from. Rodgers is a keen believer in maintaining standards of performance. Another display like the one that destroyed Everton should be more than enough to keep the Reds inside the heady confines of the top four.

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 Network, with coverage starting at 0830 EST.

West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
When: Sunday, February 2, 0830 EST/1330 GMT
Where: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Previous Premier League match: Aston Villa 4-3 West Brom, Liverpool 4-0 Everton
League Position 2013-14: West Brom 15th (22 points) Liverpool 4th (46 points)

Projected West Brom Starting 11
GK: Foster
DEF: Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell
MID:  Morrison, Mulumbu, Yacob, Gera, Brunt
FW: Anichebe

Subs from: Myhill, Amalfitano, Lugano, Vydra, Dawson, Berahino, Rosenberg, Dorrans, Tamas, Reid, Popov, Sinclair, Daniels, Thievy

Projected Liverpool Starting 11
GK: Mignolet
DEF: Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho
MID: Sterling, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Sturridge
FW: Suarez

Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Smith, Allen, Luis Alberto, Ibe, Aspas, Moses

Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard

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