Stoke and West Brom were always going to be two tough games. With both sides renowned for their defensive attributes, coupled with Liverpool’s inability to create space against teams who sit deep, Premier League rivals would have been licking their lips at the possibility of Klopp’s side stumbling at the final hurdle. They’ll have been left blissfully disappointed then, with Liverpool taking another giant step towards a return to the Champions League on Sunday.
1-0 down at Stoke with a more than questionable first-half display, nerves and injuries seemed to have gotten the better of Liverpool. The home side were in the driving seat and seemed to be on course to put a dent in any hopes of a top-four finish. However, a double substitution saw Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho enter the fray and it didn’t take long for the Brazilians to put their mark on the game. A cushioned volley into the corner from Coutinho was followed up brilliantly by a stunning long-range effort from his international compatriot to complete a superb second-half turnaround. Three vital points went Liverpool’s way and minds were cast toward West Brom.
The Reds had never beaten a Tony Pulis side on their travels in the Premier League prior to this weekend but that record was tarnished after Jurgen Klopp’s men produced a hard-fought, gritty display to churn out another victory courtesy of Roberto Firmino’s first-half header.
For all their pleasing football, a huge criticism of this Liverpool side has been their lack of bottle for a fight. That remark has been well and truly silenced, with their last two performances much more about guts than glamour. A tweak to the system has seen Klopp’s side rediscover the art of winning ugly at a crucial stage in the season.
Forget vintage Liverpool, this was a performance fuelled with guts and glory
Slick and full of attacking verve at their best, this was never going to be a vintage Liverpool performance. A first league win at the Hawthorns in six years was based upon resilience, aggression and downright determination.
Rather than wither under pressure, Liverpool went toe-to-toe with Tony Pulis’ West Brom, managing to fend off a late onslaught to take away the three points. Simon Mignolet was once again the man of the hour, pulling off another pivotal save to deny Matt Phillips a late equaliser. The Belgian has made good work of silencing his critics ahead of the summer transfer window and if Liverpool are to secure a top-four finish, a lot of credit should be steered in his direction.
In front of him, a defence that has so often crumbled at the first sign of trouble was resolute throughout on Sunday afternoon, with Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip dealing well with a flurry of long balls into the box. The Reds duo were determined to maintain their unbeaten record together rather than go out with a whimper, and if they can replicate similar performances in the coming weeks it will go a long way towards ensuring the season finishes on a high.
Steely Can typifies Reds
You’d struggle to think of a player who’s made a stronger case for a new contract than Emre Can has in the past few weeks. His recent resurgence continued with another steely display, tackling hard to intercept and break up the play on a number of occasions. The German refused to be outfought in the middle of the park and used his bullish figure to provide a physical edge to Liverpool’s game – something no other player currently provides.
From his snide performance against Arsenal to his dogged and resolute display at the Hawthorns, it was yet another indication of what Can brings to the table. Contract negotiations must be a priority at this point – failure to finalise a new deal would be foolish, to say the least.
All the pre-match talk prior to the game was about the threat West Brom poses from dead-ball situations. Who would have thought Tony Pulis would have been beaten at his own game. Gritty, gutsy Liverpool are refusing to falter in their quest to return to Europe’s elite.