West Brom V Liverpool: match report

669077528

A particularly stale encounter in the Black Country on Easter Sunday saw Liverpool take another step towards Champions League qualification while West Brom’s stagnation after reaching the 40-point mark continued. Before the fireworks at Old Trafford Jurgen Klopp’s men took their chance to establish themselves even more in the hunt for the top four and heap further pressure on those behind – including Mourinho’s men in Manchester. Roberto Firmino got the solitary goal – and managed to keep his shirt on – in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at The Hawthrones.

 

West Brom by comparison look to be on their holidays – mentally if nothing else. Now past the magical 40-point mark and with their Premier League status promised for at least another campaign the hard work for the Baggies has been done. Perhaps this speaks to a wider problem about the ambition at West Brom, but most of their players looked to have downed tools and lacked motivation – so much so that Pulis was screaming encouragement throughout the whole 90 minutes instructing each player when to close down, take on their full-back and so on.

 

The game started with Liverpool half asleep in the opening two minutes being sloppy from two throw-ins to the annoyance of Klopp on the touchline. West Brom failed to capitalise on their visitor’s slow start however with little creativity from their midfield. A huge area of need this summer if West Brom are to build on their impressive season.

 

The first big chance of the tussle fell to Firmino after a quarter of an hour. Claudio Jacob lost possession to Philippe Coutinho inside the West Brom final third. Coutinho then slid in his fellow Brazilian with a deft ball in. Firmino’s effort was scuffed but had Ben Foster beat, instead trickling past his far post.

 

West Brom endeavoured to get down the flanks with Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli the likely benefactors from deep balls by Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt. Perhaps just the lack of a high-quality playmaker all that was missing to really carved Liverpool open down the sides.

 

On the other side, Liverpool’s high end architects were struggling. Coutinho and Firmino were smothered under the organisation that came with a Tony Pulis side.

 

West Brom’s success from set pieces caused them to spring into life and maraud forward when anything as little as a throw in in Liverpool’s final third presented itself. Phillips’ throw ins were no match for those of Rory Delap and the Stoke side of nearly a decade ago which built theirs, and Pulis’ reputation, as a rugged, no-nonsense outfit.

 

Right on the stroke of half time it was Liverpool taking a page out of their opposition’s book. James Milner’s free-kick was flicked on by Lucas and found Firmino all alone in the six-yard area to nod past Foster. The goal was uncharacteristic from both sides. It is not often that Liverpool make the most of set pieces, and it was even less likely that West Brom surrender back-to-back headers to two Brazilians whom both measure under six feet tall. Firmino’s 12th goal of the season undoing all of the effort West Brom had put in with Pulis’ constant instructions from the side line counting for naught at the interval.

 

The home side conducted a small meeting before the second half got underway with captain Darren Fletcher offering encouragement amongst other things to try and spark some life into West Brom.

 

Hal Robson-Kanu, surprisingly making just his first home start for West Brom since joining in the summer, Offered the Baggies the best route to goal but too many times found himself compromised by the linesman’s chequered flag.

 

Liverpool offered more creativity and incision after the break with Divock Origi and Firmino exploiting the extra half a yard of space left behind by the West Brom midfield as they attempted to restore parity.

 

Milner was offered the chance to seal the game early in the second half after a delightful chipped ball from Firmino found the midfielder turned left-back in acres of space only for the England international to blaze his effort straight over the crossbar. A finish befitting of a full-back. Firmino could only offer up a knee slide in despair and not, as he probably anticipated, in celebration.

 

Liverpool briefly had a second which was quickly chalked off after Firmino had just leaned into an offside position before cushioning a header back into the path of Origi who calmly headed the ball into Ben Foster’s goal. The diminutive Brazilian was starting to find more leaks in the West Brom damn with Jurgen Klopp looking for his side to make it burst. An extra worry for Pulis surely had to be that his usually robust defensive outfit were losing headers to a slight midfield playmaker.

 

After just over an hour the Baggies boss had seen enough and threw on Salomon Rondon and James McClean, although Rondon himself has not been in great goal-scoring form with no goals in 17 club games since his hattrick against Swansea.

 

The home side’s biggest chance fell to Phillips after a powerful run from Rondon had Liverpool’s defence, often questioned but comfortable on the day, scrambling to stop the burly Venezuelan. His pass found Phillips on the inside left of the penalty area and the winger could only take aim and fire his effort into the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

 

A mad scrap ensued in the final moments of the game with the West Bromwich faithful roaring mightily with every set piece earned. The proceedings even saw Foster come up from his goal for an injury time corner – and nearly resulting in disaster. Substitute Alberto Moreno won the ball from the corner and tried his luck from all of 45-yards but completely missed the target, much to the disgust of Daniel Sturridge, when Foster a full 60-yards back from his own net. Amazingly, Foster stayed rooted in the heart of the Liverpool half in a desperate bid to snatch a leveller but to no avail. A smile of relief greeted Klopp upon hearing the ringing of the full-time whistle.

 

Klopp will care little that his side failed to provide their usual swashbuckling best, as at this stage of the season it is all about the three points which propel the Merseysiders into third – nine points ahead of fifth placed Everton and heaping even more pressure on Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.

What we learned: 5 things from MNF

Tottenham Hotspur Manager Mauricio Pochettino

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Tottenham Hotspurs handed Leicester City a huge advantage in the race for the title after a 1-1 draw with West Brom on Monday night. Mauricio Pochettino’s men created many chances but were unable to find the goals to keep them within touching distance of leaders Leicester after a resolute performance from a West Brom side determined to not be beaten twice in North London in the space of four days. Here are the five things we learned:

 

  1. Spurs lack cutting edge

Perhaps it was just one of those nights where you create 100 chances and take hardly any of them. Spurs had 19 shots but only two of them found the target. Harry Kane and Erik Lamela amongst others had great chances to breach Boaz Myhill’s goal and although Tony Pulis’ men rode their luck at times spurs were unable to find their usual ruthless rhythm.

 

  1. Dele Alli is a marked man

whether it is the consequences of being named PFA Young Player of the Year just one night earlier or West Brom tried to unsettled the young English star Dele Alli had a rough night. In the opening 15 minutes Alli was twice brought down in rather rough circumstances and led by captain Darren Fletcher, The Baggies were not afraid to get very hands on with the Tottenham midfielder. The former MK Dons man may have to get used to this kind of treatment if it most effective way of frustrating him. Although he was still afforded time and space in and around the West Brom penalty area he was not at his creative best – although could have had multiple assists had Spurs taken their chances.

 

  1. Salomon Rondon needs more support

The striker got into the game more as it went on and his hold up play was effective. However to get the best out of their record signing West Brom must give him more support and attack around his strengths. Rondon is powerful and quick – if used correctly he could be a building block of West Brom’s attack heading into next season. In the second half Rondon was much more effective with his holdup play and had midfield runners running off him and caused Tottenham problems of their own.

 

  1. Spurs need more forward options

While we all love watching Harry Kane terrorise defences Spurs need a different option when they are enduring an evening of frustration like they did tonight. Kane is such a well rounded striker that it would be hard to see how another option who is more one dimensional would help but even the best have bad days at the office to steal a phrase from a Football Manager press conference and in those times it helps to have another forward. During the Jermaine Defoe, Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov days Spurs had three forwards who each possessed different qualities and could affect the game in different ways. Right now Spurs do not have that – they don’t need a player to replace Kane after 75 minutes they need one to support him. Clinton N’Jie and Heung-Min Son have been solid contributors but have been deployed out in the wider positions when they have been deployed. It could be Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest priority heading into the summer transfer window.

 

  1. The title can now be won at Old Trafford

Plot twist: It’s not Manchester United gunning for the title on Sunday, it’s Claudio Ranieri and his fantastic Foxes. Leicester can win the title in a fashion they’ve become accustomed to throughout the season – beating the odds against the best. Winning the title at Old Trafford is something that all Manchester United fans long to see – just with The Red Devils lifting the trophy instead. The Foxes can cap their fairytale season with a fairytale ending, With or without Jamie Vardy, and win the league at the most prestigious club in England.

Stoke evolving in flair but staying tough

stoke

 

Since their Premier League arrival in 2008 Stoke have built up a respected yet perhaps rather discerning stereotype of being a team the opposition does not want to face on a windy December afternoon or a rainy Tuesday night. The Potters under Tony Pulis built up a formidable reputation of making the most of set pieces, second balls and being big, physical and in general not a nice team to play nor watch.

 

Those days are now long gone and this Stoke team which has been inside it’s hardened cocoon for so long has evolved into a beautiful, and on this occasion ruthless, butterfly.

 

Mark Hughes along with chairman Peter Coates have worked hard and brought in several flair players in attack while still managing to remain loyal to the foundations and system that got them to, and kept them in, the Premier League.

 

Hughes has overseen the attacking additions of: Bojan, Ibrahim Affellay, Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri. It was this attacking quartet that caused Manuel Pellegrini’s City no end of problems as they shocked the title favourites with a 2-0 victory. These players have all come from huge clubs across Europe, played in the Champions League and played with and against some of the world’s greatest players.

 

Stoke have cashed in at the opportune time with each of the players with them looking to get their careers back on track after rocky spells at big European clubs. They may be seen as a stepping stone for the aforementioned players but for now both parties are winning.

 

 

The result symbolised two things: One is that without Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany Manchester City have no spine and very little leadership. The other is that the project to get Stoke playing more attractive football with more technical players has finally set in.

 

Both of Stoke’s goals came from fantastic counter attacking play in a half which saw Arnautovic and company produce an almost perfect 45 minutes of football. Hughes’ tactics worked to perfection. Stoke invited Man City on, tackled well and then broke at lightning speed running at the much flawed Manchester City defence.

 

Although it was Arnautovic which scored the goals the real star of the show was Swiss international Shaqiri. His flicks and tricks often had £32m signing Nicholas Otamendi flailing in hopelessness and he was able to deliver in the final third throughout the 90 minutes. Shaqiri was a menace on the ball always taking on his man, often beating him in a stunning fashion, before attempting to find any of his attacking team mates in and around the box. Bojan was also in good form with his endeavour and willingness to work off the ball, teamed with his class and ingenuity on the ball, made life very difficult for the Aleksandar Kolarov. 

It was in the winning the ball back element of Stoke’s game which struck a chord that they still bare the Pulis mark of being tough to break down and being physical all across defence and midfield. And it is not just in their weekend victory this has come to the forefront. A November clash against Chelsea saw much of the same heroics typified by Dutchman Erik Pieters who, broken nose and all, kept Hazard and co quiet. Captain Ryan Shawcross has become the lion hearted leader which sees The Potters remain stable at the back and the Englishman’s influence was sorely missed when he was dismissed in their 2-0 defeat to Sunderland last month.

 

And of course no tough team is complete without a tough goalkeeper and Jack Butland is seeing his England credentials rise as he turns in consistently brilliant performances. The game against City had a sense of a personal battle as England’s number one, Joe Hart went into battle trying to fend off the ever increasing advances of the young Stoke shot stopper. It was a battle in which Butland won.

 

Hughes has blended what Stoke were and what he wanted them to be perfectly and the finished product was showcased in a devastatingly beautiful and effective counter attacking display. The former Blackburn manager has given a small head nod of respect to his predecessors style yet has given the team and the club as a whole a radical makeover which is quickly seeing Stoke become a beauty as opposed to the beast.