Liverpool took another big step towards finishing in the Premier League’s top four, beating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 on Sunday.
The match at the Hawthorns was another of the type that Jürgen Klopp’s men have struggled in this season and with experienced campaigner Tony Pulis boasting a fine record against them – having never lost a home game against the Reds in the league – the odds, you could say, were firmly stacked against them.
A dull first half that saw both sides cancel each other out was ended by a moment of good improvisation from Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, who won a second ball from a James Milner free-kick to head his side into a half-time lead.
Klopp’s men hold the honour of being the Premier League’s top goal-scorers this season, therefore no one could be blamed for expecting them to add to their lead, if of course West Brom weren’t going to equalise.
However, not only did Pulis’ men fail to find a way to Liverpool’s goal, the Reds battled it out to protect their one-goal lead and despite a number of good chances to add to their lead being wasted, Firmino’s goal was enough to seal the three points in the end.
Here are five things we learned from the clash at West Bromwich.
Solid replaces spectacular as Reds earn vital win
‘Vital’ is a word Liverpool-connected people are going to hear an awful lot in the Merseyside club’s final Premier League run-in.
That is because it’s a word that describes perfectly the importance of the Reds’ matches, as they seek to achieve qualification to the UEFA Champions League.
Sunday’s tie against West Brom was no different and although the most part of this season has seen Liverpool earn the ‘Entertainers’ tag, thanks to their spectacular way of winning games, this part of the season has demanded a more solid approach to see them earn three points.
Klopp’s men may have struggled to come to terms with that on some occasions, but credit has to go their way for looking unfazed with it at the Hawthorns.
From start to finish, Liverpool’s performance was built around denying their opponents an opportunity to display their strengths while taking the few opportunities that came their way to impose some of theirs.
Whether it was holding a high defensive line, which acted as an offside trap the Baggies’ strikers fell into a number of times, or getting numbers from all across the pitch behind the ball quickly when they were out of possession, Liverpool put in a solid performance to achieve their three points.
Set-piece training pays off as Reds survive aerial threat
A constant talking point in both the media and the dressing room of any side that builds up to a match against West Brom will always be set-pieces.
The Baggies are one of the tallest sides in the Premier League and are thus aerially gifted, scoring a number of their goals from set-piece situations.
Prior to their Sunday afternoon match, though, it was reported that Klopp’s Liverpool had spent a significant amount of time on the training field during the week, spending an entire session on defending set-pieces, which makes sense given that the Reds have struggled with such this season.
The ultimate result was a much improved showing in set-piece situations at the Hawthorns, where Liverpool showed a lack of fear in their 18-yard box to get up close and physical with their counter-parts, rarely looking troubled when the ball flew in.
And how ironic is it that their goal came from a “feed them their own medicine” type situation? Perhaps the set-piece tides are turning in favour of the Reds.
Mignolet finally moving past his struggles?
Anyone would put a question mark behind the above sentence, as in all truth and fairness, you never really know with Simon Mignolet!
Either way, a light of acknowledgement still has to be shined upon the Liverpool goalkeeper’s recent form, which impressively continued against West Brom.
The Belgian produced an impressive display of key moments, as the first half largely saw him sweep up the Baggies’ frail attacking attempts before he was called into action in the second half.
West Brom attacker Matt Philipps was played in on goal by Salomon Rondon in the 79th minute, leaving him one-on-one with Mignolet and likely to score an equaliser, however, the Liverpool goalkeeper was defiant in his response to Philipps’ shot, using his legs to excellently keep the midfielder out.
The later it got in the game, the more desperate Pulis’ men got for an equaliser and the result was more long balls thrown into the Liverpool box but both the defenders in-front of Mignolet and the goalkeeper himself have to be credited, as a combination of brave punching and good clearing kept the door to goal shut.
That said, it is a decent untroubled spell that the Anfield faithful will want to continue for Mignolet and if it does, it may just be enough to see him remain manager Klopp’s number one for another season.
Notable improvement by Firmino
Roberto Firmino was one of the few outstanding players in Liverpool’s performance at the Hawthorns.
The Reds striker, a top contender for the Man of the Match award, put in an excellent all-round display, contributing in defence as much as he did up-front.
Firmino’s performance also highlighted his season improvement in two key areas.
Firstly, the Brazilian’s deciding goal was his 12th of the season in all competitions, meaning he has bettered his past season’s tally of eleven in all competitions. Any more will surely highlight his growth as a Premier League striker and it won’t be too long before fans are backing him to reach the 20-goal mark, however ambitious that is.
Secondly, in his two seasons in England, Liverpool fans have come to know ‘Bobby’ Firmino as a man of brilliant character and on the pitch that is always displayed in the Brazilian’s goal celebrations.
His teammate and loving friend Philippe Coutinho plays a big part in those, as the duo admittedly prepare a different dance routine for whoever of them scores in each game (that must be hard-work!) but when it’s Firmino who scores, the striker mostly has a passionate but risky way of celebrating: ripping off his shirt.
He did the same when he netted against Stoke City last weekend and was clearly about to take his shirt off after scoring at the Hawthorns but thought better of it.
Perhaps that is because, according to a statistic provided by Squawka, Firmino has been booked seven times for ‘excessive celebration’ since the 2012/13 season – that’s more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues – thankfully he learned his lesson (for now) to avoid an eighth booking!
Big away wins gear Liverpool up well for remaining clashes
Getting through this difficult spell on the road following their Anfield victory against Everton does more for Liverpool’s season than just adding six points, it adds an incredibly vital boost of confidence and momentum for their remaining tough clashes.
With doubts existing around their ability to get past the so-called smaller sides, it almost felt as though the Reds had to prove it not only to the world but also themselves that they could win against the Stokes and West Broms of this world.
They’ve done that, winning 1-0 and 2-1 respectively, and with games against Crystal Palace, Watford and Southampton coming up in the next few weeks, Klopp’s men look well geared up for those clashes and it may just be a period when the league’s ‘Entertainers’ go out of business for a while, making way for the fighters.
Either face Liverpool put up, collecting three points from each of these final games will be all that matters.