Luis Suarez. He got his first hat-trick at Anfield, to add to his two sets of triple strikes away to Norwich in the past two years. All three were goals of quality: a solo dribble before dispatching a low shot, an impossible headed goal from outside the box and another header from a Steven Gerrard free-kick.
Ok, that should be enough about Suarez. Liverpool played well, for the first time this season, for the two halves, the full 90 minutes. It was heartening to see Brendan Rodgers’ side build on their usual early lead with a similar tempo in the second half. It was also great to finally see a goal from a set-piece. Gerrard’s pinpoint free-kick that Suarez’s head met for the Uruguayan’s hat-trick.
The only switch of the afternoon saw Lucas Leiva return after missing the last game due to the birth of his second son, with Victor Moses making way. This did not necessarily mean Jordan Henderson pushing up to be the no. 10 though. It saw Rodgers slightly alter his new formation. Instead of 3-4-1-2, it was 3-1-4-2, with Lucas dropping into the holding midfield role, while Gerrard and Henderson slightly ahead of the Brazilian in midfield.
This definitely gave Rodgers more of the balance he was looking for from his side. With Suarez and Daniel Sturridge already giving the Reds a deadly edge going forward, it was good to see Rodgers address the defensive side of the team, putting focus on getting the midfield balance right. Having his usual three man specialist midfielders meant Rodgers could match up man-for-man with West Brom’s midfield three of Stephane Sessegnon, Youssef Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob.
Problems Albion Endured
The magicians that are Suarez and Sturridge gave Yacob a tough time. With both taking turns to drop into the space in front of the Albion defence, Yacob simply could not deal with them, conceding a numerous amount of fouls on the edge of the area, with his fourth indiscretion finally seeing the Argentine no. 5 booked.
Suarez, especially, did extremely well in dropping deep to receive the ball from midfield and run at the Albion defence. Known more for their height and brute strength, Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley just could not deal with Suarez’s trickery and, in particular, link-up with his strike partner Sturridge. Both combined well with each other, and with the help of Gerrard and Henderson coming deep from midfield, caused much havoc in front of West Brom’s defence.
In essence, there was no need for Liverpool to get in behind the Albion defence, as would have been thought might be required. Glen Johnson, who is still finding his way back after his injury, was not needed to work too much in an attacking sense, while Aly Cissokho’s limited offensive ability was not highlighted as much.
Trip To The Emirates
With such an important win achieved and in such impressive fashion, how can Liverpool look to the next game against current table toppers Arsenal?
First off, Rodgers should stick with the game plan he had against West Brom. A midfield three of all specialist central midfielders is absolutely necessary to deal with the triple threat of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. And there’s even Jack Wilshere to think about. At the least, Mathieu Flamini looks likely to miss out after picking up an injury against Crystal Palace.
The midfield will really be the major determinant in this game. Lucas and Gerrard need to be at the top of their game to stop Arsenal’s creative playmakers. Whether Henderson will continue his good start or Philippe Coutinho returns straight back into the first eleven remains to be seen, but in all likelihood Henderson will still start and Coutinho brought off the bench in the second-half.
The defence still looked a little shaky at times against Albion, although Martin Skrtel continued his fine return with some well-timed tackles and interceptions. Mamadou Sakho should miss out, giving Liverpool’s back line the poised ball-playing abilities and leadership from the back of Daniel Agger. The Danish captain can really be the link between Liverpool’s back three and midfield, something they have to establish as an alternative, viable way to play out from the back.
The return of Jose Enrique will be very much appreciated as well. His absence, though less impactful with Cissokho deputising, is still felt with the lack of attacking verve on the left flank. Cissokho’s one dimensional forays down the left just cannot match Enrique’s ability and quick thinking on the ball. The Spaniard’s defensive abilities gives Rodgers less worry as well.
Liverpool need to ensure the two point gap with Arsenal does not increase. A draw away from home against the form team of the moment would be a fine result, but Rodgers cannot aim just for the draw. He needs to go for the jugular, to try and get the win and try to overhaul Arsenal. He has to be ambitious in his tactics for this game, to show Liverpool are not satisfied to just be in the top 4.