After Wednesday’s defensive horror show against Villa, I was dreading facing up against the Premier League’s most lethal striking partnership: Sturridge and Suarez.
Mel thankfully saw sense and recalled Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones in defence. Saido Berahino and Matej Vydra were paired in attack and Zoltan Gera replaced the injured James Morrison in midfield.
Unsurprisingly after what had happened in the week, Albion started a little timidly. It took until the 17th minute for the Baggies to record an effort on goal. Brunt fired over a deep corner, Olsson headed the ball back for Youssouf Mulumbu. The midfielder’s drive was blocked by England captain Steven Gerrard as it arrowed goalwards.
Liverpool scored with their first real chance. Olsson and McAuley had dealt with the threat of ‘the SAS’ well until the goal. But Olsson stood off Suarez in the area and allowed the striker to chip the ball to the back post where his strike partner Sturridge tapped home from a yard out. Albion appealed for offside, but the Birmingham-born striker timed his run superbly.
The goal knocked any confidence out of Albion. Mel had adopted a 4-5-1 formation with Zoltan Gera supporting the lone Vydra. After the goal he switched to a 4-4-2 but Albion’s forwards struggled to regain the ball allowing Liverpool to dominate the ball.
Gera had Albion’s only other chance of the half when he fired wide from 20 yards out.
Just before half time, Albion suffered a blow when Jonas Olsson limped off with a hamstring injury. Comedy defender Diego Lugano sprinted on. Albion fans feared the worst.
After the break
Lugano strangely stayed out during the half time break to work on passing a ball about with one of Albion’s backroom staff.
Something had to change after a disappointing first 45 minutes. Mel responded by reinforcing his high-pressing philosophy with Vydra and Berahino sitting on Liverpool’s midfielder’s stopping them from receiving the ball.
A clever move down the right involving Jones, Gera and Mulumbu saw the later swing over a cross at the back post for Chris Brunt. Albion’s captain slid for the ball but his effort was blocked for a corner.
From the resulting set piece, Gareth McAuley almost equalised with a close-range header. In a similar move to the defender’s late goal at Fulham, he rose at the back post but this time Mignolet managed to get a hand to the ball and away.
Liverpool’s first chance of the half almost resulted in a goal. Suarez wriggled away from his compatriot Lugano and turned inside McAuley. Thankfully for Albion, Ben Foster stayed big to keep Albion in the game.
On the hour mark, Mel had seen enough and threw on Liverpudlian Victor Anichebe for Berahino. Much like he did against Everton, his introduction gave Albion a new dynamic going forward. The only surprise was that Vydra remained after a disappointing performance.
Brunt tested Mignolet with a free kick after Anichebe had been fouled on the edge of the area. Big Vic then levelled for Albion after Kolo Toure had inexplicably passed the ball across his area into the path of the big forward. Anichebe controlled the ball with his left foot before firing into the corner with this other foot.
Albion pushed for a winner but failed to create any clear chances as Mel had to settle for another 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns.
Albion were much improved at the back after the terrible defensive display on Wednesday. The returning Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson marshalled Liverpool’s forwards well. In fact, it was probably Albion’s best rearguard display in the last few months. Going forward, Albion were disappointing in the first half. Vydra did little throughout the whole 90 minutes and questions have to be asked whether he has the mentality or physical attributes to be a Premier League player. Too often he backed out of challenges. Even more often, he failed to control the ball.
After Mel had drilled his troops at half time, Albion were better after the break. The introduction of Anichebe again changed the game in Albion’s favour. He offered us a presence up front, won aerial challenges and fouls around the area. He also took his goal superbly. He may have been gifted the ball, but he finished the chance superbly. More of that please Big Vic.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES!
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