Liverpool slumped to their second successive defeat on Saturday night, crashing out of the FA Cup fourth round for the third season in a row. Ending all chances of capturing a trophy this year, The Reds produced a very abject performance as West Brom secured their second win since August – one of which came against Exeter City.
Bobby Firmino gave the home team a good start after Jonny Evans was caught dwelling in possession. Mohamed Salah raced through on goal but couldn’t do enough to beat Foster, before his Brazilian teammate produced a delightful lob to capitalise on the defensive blunder. Yet, just seconds later and the scores were level again.
This time it was The Baggies who capitalised on a mistake at the back, with Jay Rodriguez storming past the midfield before unleashing a powerful shot into the top-right corner and beyond the reach of Simon Mignolet. Adding a second goal just minutes later before an own goal from Joel Matip, Liverpool deserved defeat at Anfield.
Here are the observations from the match.
(Midfield) absence does not make the heart grow fonder
The old saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ clearly wasn’t meant for footballing terms as Liverpool’s vacant midfield left time and space for West Brom to expose the back-four. Emre Can was one of the standout performers a few weeks ago against City, but produced a dismal display as captain here, offering no defensive cover for his teammates while appearing far too ponderous in possession.
Gaping holes were there to be exploited and West Brom duly obliged, with Krychowiak ghosting past Emre easily before slotting the ball down the left flank. Wijnaldum was equally at fault, failing to track Rodriguez’s run to the back post for his second of the night while Moreno simply watched helplessly on.
As for Ox, he was parked out wide far too often in the first-half in a peripheral role, unable to add the dynamism and industry we’ve seen of late. Lacking in drive and forward thinking, the midfield was unable to link with the attack while gifting The Baggies room to roam time and time again.
Distinct lack of game-changing substitutes
Bringing on Danny Ings, Jordan Henderson and James Milner in the second-half confirmed the stark lack of game-changing options available to Jurgen Klopp right now. Ings is still short of game time following a long injury lay-off while fellow striker Dominic Solanke is yet to score a first goal for the club.
Daniel Sturridge was left out of the 18 man squad for the contest despite his ruthless eye for a goal and could well have come in handy as Liverpool searched for a late equaliser, but the truth is the club need to splash the cash this month and bring in further re-enforcements in order to secure a top-four finish. Thomas Lemar may not have changed the outcome of the last two games single-handedly, but you can be damn sure he’d have offered more of a spark than what was on offer here.
Another season with no trophy
Klopp’s starting eleven screamed of a side who were looking to take the FA Cup seriously this season in a bid to end their 6 years without silverware; the League Cup in Feb 2012 being the last time. With the remains of the ‘Fab Four’ leading the line and £75million signing Virgil Van Dijk in defence, Liverpool had more than enough quality to see off Alan Pardew’s men but simply failed to show up to the races.
There remains plenty to fight for, with a crucial clash against Porto on the horizon in the Champions League and the hunt for top-four very much in the balance, but Liverpool’s trophy troubles won’t end this year.
VAR dominates the headlines
They’ll be a lot of contrasting views as to whether VAR is the way forward for football. On the negative side, it took Craig Pawson 5-10 minutes to determine whether Mohamed Salah was indeed brought down inside the area by a tug from Gareth Barry, stopping the flow and tempo of the game in the process while causing the on-looking fans huge confusion as to what was going on. Yet, it did play a hand in two huge decisions from the referee – the first of which came after Craig Dawson nodded in from close range.
Climbing on top of Roberto Firmino to make contact with the ball, VAR determined that the West Brom defender had fouled his move, ruling the goal out in the process. Then came the Salah incident; Pawson initially waved away calls for a penalty before turning to the video assistant which gave The Reds a way back into the contest. While Firmino was unable to convert from the spot, it did highlight the importance that VAR could have on future games. On another day, the referee’s initial decisions could’ve proved very costly.