Anfield was the stage for what was probably the earliest "must win" game in recent Liverpool history. The Reds are coming off a heart-wrenching draw in the Merseyside Derby last weekend and a loss to Basel in the Champions League midweek. They needed to take three points from West Bromwich Albion, a team that sat four places ahead of them in the table as of kick-off. They were going to try to do so with Mario Balotelli on the bench. The hulking Italian was dropped from the starting lineup in favor of Rickie Lambert. It is the first Premier League start of the season for the former Southampton striker.
West Brom controlled the ball early but the first real chance at goal came from Liverpool. Steven Gerrard had a free kick centrally located outside the box, a troublesome challenge for keeper Ben Foster. Well, it may have been trouble if the Red skipper didn't hit his effort directly into the wall.
After the Gerrard FK, Liverpool would get the wolf's share of possession for the next five or so minutes. Their work would culminate with Adam Lallana finding some space on the flank. His attempt to link up with former Saints teammate Lambert was unfruitful though as the striker could not rise high enough to put the ball on net.
Raheem Sterling would show why teams like Real Madrid will be chasing his signature over the next several years in the 14th minute. He surgically weaved through the West Bromwich Albion defense and uncorked a curler at Foster. The ball took a fortunate deflection off a unsuspecting Baggies defender and out for a corner. Nothing came of the corner but West Brom's deficiencies were on display.
West Brom would take control of the game but they were not making the best of their chances. Over a half hour period, Saido Berahino and Rickie Lambert would take turns getting in on net. Lambert's chances came in the 19th and 40th minutes, but his lack of decisiveness with his touch made both efforts easy for Ben Foster to wrangle. The Baggie striker Berahino looked better with his two shots. In the 35th he intercepted a poor Javi Manquillo square ball and made Simon Mignolet work. A slight overrun on a Sebastien Pocognoli cross in the 42nd allowed Reds fans to breath a sigh of relief as Berahino's header went over the bar.
The half ended on a tremendous note though for Liverpool. Adam Lallana was in a Bermuda Triangle of West Brom defenders but was able to zig zag his way out. He played a sweet 1-2 with Jordan Henderson whose back heel rolled right back into Lallana's path. The Liverpool #20 was not to be denied of his first Liverpool goal and he sent it to the far post past Foster with his left foot. It was a great end to an otherwise underwhelming half for the home side.
The second half started with a controversial call from the match official. Michael Oliver deemed Dejan Lovren's foul on Saido Berahino to be a penalty. The tackle was clearly a yard or so out of the penalty area but after taking his time to point to the spot, Oliver awarded Berahino a spot kick. The Baggies front man calmly took his kick sending Mignolet the wrong way to level the score at 1-1.
Not hanging their heads, Liverpool would restore their one goal advantage in the 61st minute. Raheem Sterling worked his way into the right side of the West Brom penalty box. He was clearly fouled but was told to play on. As West Brom stood waiting for a whistle, Sterling rose and passed the ball right to Jordan Henderson would curled in a shot to the far corner through a sea of legs to make it 2-1. Take heed young footballers, play to the whistle!
The 63rd minute brought a double change for Liverpool. Mario Balotelli and Glen Johnson entered the fray for Rickie Lambert and Javi Manquillo respectively. Brendan Rodgers was not taking his foot off the attacking gas. Balotelli's first touch in an attacking position saw him almost make it 3-1 with a curling effort that curled just a tad too much.
Berahino continued his terrorizing of Dejan Lovren in the 75th minute. He was somehow able to confuse the center half on Chris Brunt's cross. Lovren watched the ball go over his head but Berahino could not make solid contact with his and the ball fell softly into Mignolet's arms. The West Brom striker should easily have had at least a brace by now. Liverpool quickly countered but Steven Gerrard's effort on a Sterling lay off was saved.
Liverpool tried desperately to hang on to their lead over the final ten minutes. West Brom seemed to be indecisive whether or not they wanted to heap on the pressure with numbers. They would bring on Sebastian Blanco and Georgios Samaras to supplement the attack but neither provided the needed spark. Liverpool were the victors.
With the three points, Liverpool tentatively rose to seventh place in the Premier League table. With the loss, West Brom falls to 14th. Liverpool's next game is two Sundays from now at Loftus Road versus Queens Park Rangers. They will return home three days later for the daunting task of taking on defending UCL Champions Real Madrid. Until then, cheers.
Image Credit: Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion (kaustubhb.wordpress.com)