Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were sumptuous in their victory over Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening. The Reds’ performance over 90 mins was so impressive the fact they only managed a 2-1 win seems a bit of an anomaly.
After going two ahead with ten first-half minutes left to play, it looked like Liverpool were ready to fill their boots. Their interchanging forward line twisted the blood of the West Brom defence but some less than perfect finishing and an excellent performance from West Brom goalie Ben Foster kept the score at 2-0.
By the time Gareth McAuley managed to pull one back for the Baggies Liverpool should have been out of sight but, as it was, they endured their shakiest period of the match in the closing stages. The Reds’ defence had had an easy night’s work up until the Northern Ireland veteran’s somewhat fortuitous goal but as soon as the Baggies pulled one back, they looked far more vulnerable.
With 18 minutes of normal time left, when West Brom pulled one back, Klopp decided to twist instead of sticking and went in search of a third. Only Foster’s brilliance and an excellent last stitch tackle from Jonas Olsen denied him.
It was while looking for the illusive third during this stage of the game that Liverpool looked most likely to concede. The control they had for the majority of the game was greatly diminished. Still Klopp favoured the pursuit of a third goal instead of regaining control and hitting West Brom on the break. His substitution of Philippe Coutinho for Lucas Leiva in the 88th minute could have been made 15 maybe even 20 minutes earlier.
A decision like this against a more potent attacking team could cost the Liverpool manager in the future. As it was, West Brom only huffed and puffed without ever really creating much.
Klopp is known as an attacking manager, and when firing on all cylinders his team play a foot-to-the-floor, cavalier football that is highly exciting to watch. He should be commended for his work at Anfield so far; however, his unwillingness to make tactical changes that may be construed as negative shows the tiniest chink of naivety that could cost him some vital points over the course of the rest of season.
At 2-0 West Brom were beaten, why not sacrifice a couple of rampaging attackers to shore things up and conserve some energy for the coming weeks?
There are many people championing Liverpool for the title this year. If they are to be in with a genuine chance of success, they will need to learn how to close out a game like the one against West Brom on Saturday. The Leicester side that won the title last season did so with a string of 1-0 wins at the tail end of the season. This, after having such a leaky defence in the early part of the season, the carrot of free pizza that had to be dangled before they secured their first clean sheet.
It’s never the four or five nil hammerings that win league titles, it’s the games scrapped by a single goal on a day when nothing seems to be coming off. The way Klopp’s side are playing, they will give out plenty of spankings this season but can they learn to win on the days things aren’t going their way?
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena
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