The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
August 18, 2012; 15:00 BST
Every season brings a new wave of hope and enthusiasm around a club and its supporters and this one is no different. There is an air of excitement as the fans eagerly await their new signings to feature in games and slowly but surely, the banter will begin. These energy levels are only heightened further when a club gets a new manager in place as is the case with West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool.
Liverpool went in for a major summer revamp – letting go of club legend and manager Kenny Dalglish along with second-in-command – Steve Clarke, amongst a host of other managerial as well as player changes. While Kenny was happy to have served his club and is now hoping to be present at Liverpool games as a spectator, Steve Clarke was appointed as the man-at-helm at the Hawthorns.
Having previously worked at Chelsea, Newcastle United and West Ham, it goes without saying that the Scottish manager has plenty of experience in top-flight football and is tipped do a good job of keeping the Baggies floating well above the relegation zone this season.
Brendan Rodgers, on the other hand, was and still is, an appointment waiting to shine. The manager has been brought in and has immediately taken to the Liverpool ethos – be it the footballing style or the way of life in the city of Liverpool. Putting up the old ‘This is Anfield’ plaque followed by reinstating the red nets on the pitch were just the beginning of things to come.
Rodgers has also made some shrewd purchases in the transfer market this season, bringing in Fabio Borini and Joe Allen to bolster and help carry his philosophy amongst the first-team players. There is an air of confidence in the Liverpool camp and you wouldn’t be too wrong to believe that they will definitely challenge for the top four.
Team News and Tactical Brief
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom go into their first game of the season with a couple of key injury concerns albeit not too serious. Club captain Chris Brunt suffered a calf injury on the club’s Scandinavian tour forcing him to return early from their summer preparations while full-back Steven Reid is struggling with an ankle injury.
Brunt has missed majority of the pre-season but an upcoming international friendly against Finland would be a good test for the midfielder who needs to be match-fit before the game. He has started training with the first team again but a few minutes under the belt would put him in good stead to face Liverpool. Brunt is a vital presence on the pitch for the club and Clarke would be hoping for him to get fit before Saturday.
Steven Reid, on the other hand, injured his ankle in a game against Chelsea early in March this year and has been on the slower end of the recovery scale. Having gone through rehabilitation, the player is now hoping to shake off any injury concerns and will hopefully be in contention for a starting spot on Saturday.
Steve Clarke is best known for his discipline in defense which was evident with his stint with Liverpool where he formed a successful and lethal partnership of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. So, there is no doubt that the manager will try and emulate the same style at West Brom.
This means, the likes of Jonas Olsson, Gabriel Tamas and Craig Dawson have a key role to play as centre-halves this season. Olsson brings tons of experience to the back four but the likes of Tamas and Dawson are more likely to feature if West Brom are to build a strong defensive pairing for the future.
Steven Reid could feature but chances are the 31-year-old will start on the bench with Billy Jones likely to take the right-back spot for the Liverpool game. Gareth McAuley is the favourite to start on the left side of defense.
West Brom’s midfield looks pretty solid on paper. Central pairing Chris Brunt and Youssouf Mulumbu will do well in attack and defense respectively. With Liverpool looking to play an intense passing game, Mulumbu’s presence is vital to shut out the likes of Gerrard and Joe Allen. James Morrison and Liam Ridgewell complete the quartet in the middle of the park.
New signing Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea and former Reading striker Shane Long hold the prospect of forming a destructive pair in the Premier League. With the right assistance and good tactical setup, they can cause trouble to big teams, starting with the Liverpool defense.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Foster; Tamas, Dawson, Jones, McAuley; Brunt, Mulumbu, Morrison, Ridgewell; Long, Lukaku
Liverpool Liverpool Liverpool
The Reds begin this season with no real injury concerns. Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam returned from injury during the summer and have even featured in pre-season friendlies. Daniel Agger has regained complete fitness too.
Joe Cole, who spent last season on loan at Ligue-1 side Lille, returned and featured in the Europa League qualifier against FC Gomel in which he pulled a hamstring. The England international is, however, expected to be fit for Saturday’s game.
Liverpool are inching closer to a new brand of football under Brendan Rodgers. The former Swansea manager is looking to instill a philosophy that has been successfully executed by the Spain national side and La Liga giants Barcelona. The second leg of the Europa League qualifier followed by the pre-season friendly showcased the concept of retaining possession, quick, slick passes, building up attacks from the back and getting players across different positions and out of their comfort zones in order to build-up play.
The biggest advantage for Liverpool this season, and not just in the opening game, is the presence of Steven Gerrard higher up in attack – a position that reaped benefits for player and club during the time of Rafael Benitez.
The presence of Lucas and Allen in the middle of the park boasts of a really formidable midfield. Lucas’ presence is of growing importance with each passing day while new boy Allen could be a menace across the entire midfield line due to his ability to get into positions on either side to assist his teammates. Rodgers has been experimenting with a three-man midfield in his friendlies so this means Downing could be the third person completing the midfield line.
Upfront, Suarez, Gerrard and Borini can spell doom for any opposition if they click and judging by the pre-season games, this is already happening. Gerrard and Suarez especially could form a diminutive pairing if Brendan Rodgers’ style is well adopted by the duo.
The important thing to note about formations under Brendan Rodgers is that they are subject to immediate change on the pitch and are highly dynamic in nature. This is because of the stress on fluidity in player movement across the pitch and the nous to find and get into new spaces within proximity. Don’t be surprised if you find Gerrard running up on the right towards the byline and if Lucas is covering for Enrique at left-back as the Spaniard makes a move forward.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Allen, Downing; Borini, Gerrard, Suarez
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For
Having been denied permission by his former club Swansea to feature in the pre-season friendly against Bayer Leverkusen, Joe Allen has had to be a little more patient for his first start in Liverpool colours. In all likelihood, this will happen on Saturday.
Allen is best known for his ability to go into tackles. This, coupled with a high pass completion rate has made him a signing that everybody is eager to watch, including us.
West Bromwich Albion 0 – 1 Liverpool FC
As exciting as it sounds and looks (when Spain and Barcelona play), it will take a while for Liverpool to become graduates of the tiki-taka preaching. Nonetheless, the start to this new approach has been pleasing and we think the Reds will come away with three points even if it is not an entirely convincing victory.
TheHardTackle’s Blast from the Past