Liverpool will hope to close the gap to fourth-placed Chelsea to one point when they take on West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Sunday.
The action is coming at a breakneck pace all across Europe and in the Premier League, Gameweek 36 is underway. With the title and relegation fights officially over, all that now remains is for the European qualifiers to be finalised, and Liverpool will hope to continue their push for a top four finish when they lock horns with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Sunday evening.
West Brom appeared to be destined for the drop right from the early stages of the 2020/21 season, and it did not really come as a surprise when Slaven Bilic was sacked in December. Sam Allardyce was brought in to wield his magic wand, but for the first time in his career, he has been unable to inspire a team to stave off relegation, having overseen just 4 wins in 23 games in-charge till date.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have been disastrous in the defence of their Premier League crown, having been one of the most underwhelming teams in Europe since the turn of the year. However, in recent weeks, the Reds have been in something of a resurgent mood, with their last defeat in the top-flight coming back in March, with a top four finish now in sight.
The reverse fixture, played at Anfield back in December, was a drab affair that saw West Brom come back from a goal down to hold Liverpool to a 1-1 draw. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
West Bromwich Albion
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) May 13, 2021
Sam Allardyce has been handed a boos on the team news front ahead of the visit of Liverpool. On Sunday, the West Bromwich Albion manager will only be bereft of the services of two first-team players, with Robert Snodgrass (back) and Branislav Ivanovic (hamsrting) sidelined.
The good news, though, is the return of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who was ineligible to take on parent club Arsenal last week. The English international, who has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs including Manchester United, will return to the three-man midfield, where he ought to have Okay Yokuslu and Conor Gallagher for company.
Yokusli will sit at the base of the three-man unit, with Gallagher and Maitland-Niles providing the defensive support to the Turk. And, the onus will be on the three midfielders to keep their counterparts in check, so as to make Liverpool’s attacking moves more one dimensional.
As for the defenders, they will have the unenviable task of keeping a lid on the output of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi will pair up at the heart of the West Brom defence, with Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend being the two full-backs. In goal, there is no looking past Sam Johnstone.
Finally, in attack, the spotlight will be on West Brom talisman Matheus Pereira, who has been a rare bright spot in a dismal season for the Baggies. Pereira will pose the greatest threat to the Liverpool defence, with Mbaye Diagne and Callum Robinson likely to start alongside him in the final third.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Johnstone; Furlong, Bartley, Ajayi, Townsend; Gallagher, Yokuslu, Maitland-Niles; Pereira, Diagne, Robinson
Unlike his counterpart in the West Bromwich Albion dugout, Jurgen Klopp is unlikely to greet the return of any first-team player this weekend. At the Hawthorns on Sunday, the Liverpool manager will continue to have to make do without nine first-team players in all likelihood.
While the likes of Virgil van Dijk (knee), Joel Matip (ankle), Joe Gomez (knee) and Jordan Henderson (groin) remain long-term absentees, the major concern is over the unavailability of Ozan Kabak, who is recovering from a muscle injury.
With Kabak unlikely to return to action against West Brom, Rhys Williams should get another chance to impress at the heart of the Liverpool defence, where he will have the impressive Nathaniel Phillips for company. Trent Alexander-Arnold was in his elements against Manchester United and will once again hold the key for Liverpool on Sunday.
Alexander-Arnold and full-back partner Andrew Robertson will provide much of the creative impetus for Liverpool, sending in dangerous crosses from the two flanks. Up ahead in midfield, there is no looking past Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara, who has been growing in stature in recent weeks.
Finally, in attack, the key decision will once again centre around which of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota misses the cut. Jota was the least impressive of the four attacking players earlier this week and is likely to find himself on the bench, while Salah will continue his push for a third Golden Boot.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Rhys Williams, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Firmino, Mane
1. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.80
1. Own Goal in Match – YES @ 6.50
- Six of the last eight Premier League meetings between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool have ended as a draw, with Liverpool winning the other two in the 2016/17 season. The Reds, though, are unbeaten in 11 Premier League matches against West Brom (W4 D7).
- West Brom have lost their last 17 top-flight home league matches against the reigning champions by an aggregate score of 44-9. Their last win at the Hawthorns over the reigning champion was in 1980/81 against Liverpool.
- Liverpool have only won one of their five league matches against the three newly promoted teams this season (D3 L1). Should they fail to win this game, it would be the first time since 1980/81 that they will have only registered one win against newly promoted sides in a season, with that Liverpool team also the last reigning champion to win only one game against newly promoted teams in a top-flight season.
- West Brom lost their first four home Premier League matches under Sam Allardyce by an aggregate score of 17-0 but have been beaten just once in their subsequent seven under the former England boss (W2 D4), conceding only five goals.
- Mohamed Salah has scored 12 of his 21 Premier League goals this season away from home. Last season, only four of his 19 were not netted at Anfield.
Player to Watch
Much of the reason why Liverpool have been miserable in their Premier League title defence can be attributed to or correlated with the downfall of Trent Alexander-Arnold. For a couple of seasons, the English international was by far the best full-back in the Premier League, creating as many chances as a Kevin De Bruyne and being in contention to claim the most assists in a season.
This term, though, Alexander-Arnold has been a pale shadow of his domineering best. However, in recent weeks, that has changed to a great extent, with the youngster starting to rediscover his verve in the final third. And, if Liverpool are to end 2020/21 in the top four, it is Alexander-Arnold who will need to be at his very best and set up chances galore for the front-men.
There is also the small matter of regaining the lost spot in the England national side, where there is fierce competition for the right-back slot. If Alexander-Arnold finds a way to end the season on a strong note, it is likely that he will have regained his place in the squad at the very least before he can compete with the likes of Kieran Trippier, Reece James and Kyle Walker.
West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Liverpool
West Bromwich Albion have been a difficult side to beat at times this season, and the Hawthorns, they do not tend to lose many lately. Indeed, having conceded just five goals in their last seven outings at home, the Baggies will hope to frustrate Liverpool, who have also had their fair share of troubles beating Sam Allardyce-led teams – the English manager being unbeaten in his last five Premier League meetings with the Reds (W1 D4).
However, the game against Manchester United showed that they might be getting back to their best, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino, in particular, showing signs of improvement. With that in mind, this could be a game in which Liverpool cruise to a crucial win, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 victor for Jurgen Klopp & co.