Joyful Eastertide for Klopp as Mignolet proves to be Liverpool’s saviour again.
West Brom 0-1 Liverpool
For the second week in succession, Liverpool left the Midlands with three ugly points safely secured, and for the second week in succession, Roberto Firmino and Simon Mignolet were largely responsible for the outcome.
In the continued absence of Henderson, Lallana and Mané, Jürgen Klopp fielded his strongest possible eleven, with Origi preferred to the fit-again Daniel Sturridge. As for Tony Pulis, well he’s made a career out fielding what can charitably be called pragmatic sides, and he didn’t disappoint today. That said, West Brom sit eighth in the Premier League at present and there are reasons for this. The Midlands’ side organisation and discipline kept Pulis’ men in contention until the very end of this fixture.
To be honest, intriguing as the match was, this was not a particularly vivid advert for the Best League in the World ™; Liverpool didn’t register a shot on target until around the 30th minute, and it was deep into the second half before Mignolet had to produce his only save, albeit a miraculous, three-point securing one from West Brom’s liveliest player, Matt Phillips.
To be fair, there were other flashes of brilliance – a tricksy Coutinho moment here, a surging Matip run there – but this was a match low on quality: more Lenten fast than Easter feast.
That said, from a Liverpool perspective, there was the encouragement of a far more convincing defensive display, with the centre back pairing of Matip and Lovren operating effectively in front of a far more confident Simon Mignolet. The excellent Lucas Leiva provided outstanding defensive midfield cover, allowing his colleagues to perform their duties with little of the stomach-churning anxiety that has characterised much of the season.
Robson-Kanu was shackled for much of his time on the pitch and even the zonal marking seemed to be working respectably well. Although things became more difficult with Rondon’s belated introduction, and there will be far sterner tests to come over the remaining fixtures, Klopp should be happy with the functional and more secure nature of Liverpool’s defending.
The only goal of the game came at the very end of the first period and there was good fortune attached to it. Liverpool were awarded a free kick on the right hand side, about 25 yards out from West Brom’s goal.
Milner’s clipped delivery was, in all probability, intended for Lovren, who was hovering at the back post, but the delivery was weak. The ball only reached Lucas who was able to nod it into the path of a surging Roberto Firmino, and from point blank range, he was hardly likely to miss, duly burying his header past Foster. Granted, there was plenty of manhandling of the West Brom defence in the lead up to the goal, but referees this season seem impotent to do anything about this increasingly irritating side to the game.
Liverpool went into half-time a goal to the good and, on balance, just about deservedly. The second half produced plenty more huff and puff and one or two chances, before bursting into life again just before the end. A rare moment of West Brom pace and vision sliced the Liverpool defence apart and Matt Phillips was left with a one-on-one with Mignolet. As has become his hallmark, the Belgian remained on his feet before flinging out his left leg to block the goal bound shot.
If Liverpool do reach the paradise of the Champions League, Mignolet could well prove to be the catalyst for this late surge towards the Promised Land. He has rescued four points for his team in the last two matches, transforming himself from very naughty boy to Messiah in the process. He’s even beginning to look more secure on crosses these days.
Minutes after Mignolet’s miracle, Ben Foster, the Baggies’ goalkeeper, decided he wanted to join in the fun and he made his way to the Liverpool box, leaving his net completely untended. As is often the case, the hapless stopper was more of a hindrance than a help, leaving Alberto Moreno, who had recently arrived as a substitute, driving forwards towards goal.
Inexplicably, with excellent options ahead of him, the Spaniard decided he was going to score from 50 yards, with the inevitable embarrassing consequences. Fortunately for Moreno, there was no long term damage from his moment of egotistical madness as Jon Moss blew for full time shortly afterwards.
With Spurs and Manchester City on Saturday and Manchester United easing past a stuttering Chelsea yesterday, Liverpool’s victory was absolutely essential. No, it was not the most electrifying performance of the season, but no one on the red half of Merseyside will care about that.
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