We started off at a frenetic pace, with quite a bit of energy and speed, which was good to see after many, many laboured games so far. West Brom obliged with their own 100mph football, which made for quite a fast game. Our final ball deserted us though, as every attempt to find a breakthrough was lost through a poor final pass, or a tackle/interception from the pressing WBA players.
Sterling had some bright flashes, including a mazy run that ended in nothing, but otherwise was dispossessed quite easily and lost the ball a lot. Henderson was used as a forward pressing machine to pressure the West Brom midfield, while Coutinho dropped back a lot to collect the ball in time and space. He did make forward forays, though again, he was usually dispossessed quickly, or lost the ball.
Lallana continues to be a bright spark, and that money looks well-spent as his all-action pressing and amazing touch and game intelligence shone. His one-two in the box with Henderson was pretty magical (with a lot of credit to Henderson for that nonchalant touch to put Lallana in), and he scored near the end of the first half to make it 1-0 to us.
But beyond the goal, West Brom have had the better chances, including a free header that Berahino sent high into the stands. I think it was Lovren’s job to pick up Berahino, but either way, both our CBs failed to even connect with the ball. We were let off by the wayward finishing of Berahino. Sakho might not have done better, but Lovren is getting a heck of a lot of leeway from Rodgers. For all the talk about players getting chances if they work hard and play well, Rodgers evidently likes to play his favourites.
Gerrard is one of them, and he’s been playing quite conservatively today, and has stayed relatively anonymous in the game. His corners have been decent, but Foster reached them well in time, so we haven’t fashioned even a shot from those. Moreno has been pretty quiet too, despite being the better attacker than Manquillo, who has offered a better outlet so far in the game.
With a goal up, West Brom would have to attack. Can we exploit the space on the counter? Given how poor our final ball is, and how Lambert seems to be struggling to hold up the ball, it’s tough to say. As long as we don’t drop deep and defend set-pieces better, we might actually win a game.
The second half was a bit of a roller-coaster, as we continued to fashion some half-chances and never really tested Foster. It started off pretty poorly, as an unforced error from Manquillo led to a break from WBA, and then Lovren stupidly made a tackle right outside the penalty box. It was an unnecessary challenge, and it became a penalty that West Brom equalised from. Lovren also lost Berahino when West Brom floated a cross into the box some time during the game, but luckily nothing came from that.
Aside from pretty calamitous defending from Lovren, we didn’t do particularly badly nor well. Lallana tired from his mad running, but Henderson grew into the game, culminating in a goal after Sterling was fouled in the box. Lambert did well to pull his leg out of the way, but that was basically the only contribution he made before Balotelli replaced him, and Johnson replaced Manquillo.
Johnson proceeded to become pretty anonymous compared to Manquillo as an attacking outlet, which is no surprise given his fitness and horrendous form. Hopefully he won’t just straight-up displace Manquillo, or I’m going to be very annoyed. Later, as the game progressed and we came a bit under the cosh, Lucas was brought on to steady things a little. Instead of him playing CM like Rodgers has had him doing, he actually moved Gerrard into attacking midfield with Coutinho having been subbed for Lucas.
Gerrard immediately showed flashes of his attacking brilliance, linking up with Balotelli well twice. Balotelli also injected much attacking intent, holding up the ball and providing two fantastic balls for Sterling to run onto, only the youngster’s touch letting him down. It’s clear that Balotelli needs someone to play up front with, being a playmaking striker rather than a no. 9. Not sure why there was criticism from Rodgers and other people, given that we’re not playing to his strengths, and our team identity has been lost in the last couple of games anyway. He’s not entirely blameless for our poor form in front of goal, but he’s evidently not the problem.
Also, Gerrard’s good showing in his old attacking midfield role tells me that Rodgers might be FINALLY wising up to the fact that he’s just wasted in front of the back four. Buy a good DM in January, and push Gerrard forward. Heck, play him as a striker when Sturridge is injured. He’ll be far better than Borini as a partner for Balotelli.
Anyway, the game eventually slowed down, and we managed to keep out of further trouble and snatched the 3 points. It was a scrappy win with bits and pieces of brilliance scattered about, but it’s an important 3 points to build on. Let’s hope Rodgers can make the relevant changes and get us going again.