Liverpool ground out a crucial 1-0 win at West Brom thanks to Roberto Firmino‘s header, as the Reds took a huge step towards Champions League qualification.
West Brom 0–1 Liverpool
Premier League, The Hawthorns
April 16, 2017
Goals: Firmino 45+1
Reds’ timely ability to win ugly
It has long been said that Klopp’s Liverpool can only win when all conditions suit the Reds, but the German and his side have picked perfect moment to prove they can win ugly.
The Reds ground out a gritty win at Stoke last weekend, with a much-depleted team battling from behind to seal a huge three points.
And that new-found resilience shone through for the second game running at the Hawthorns, where Klopp’s side were again depleted and again below par, but once more dug in and found a way to win.
At times under the pressure the Reds stood strong, with every player working tirelessly to the very last second in a collective effort from front to back.
At a stage of the season where points are prioritised over performance, getting maximum points on the board by any means necessary is the most important aspect, and Klopp’s men have discovered how to do it with immaculate timing.
Firmino finds match-winning form
On days when it just doesn’t quite click you need key players to step up and provide, and Roberto Firmino did exactly that with a man-of-the-match performance for the below-par Reds.
The Brazilian has so often provided the catalyst for big team showings with his selfless work rate and intelligence, but he was the main man again as he netted a second priceless match-winner in as many games, with his header from James Milner’s free-kick capping off an excellent overall display.
Firmino was central to everything the Reds did well, as he took responsibility to make things happen – creating five chances – while also carrying the fight in his work-rate, winning all of his tackles in a relentless display.
Roberto Firmino game by numbers v West Brom:
100% tackles won
5 chances created
2 aerial duels won
Never stops ? pic.twitter.com/gvkIxK52m7
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2017
Firmino’s match-winning influence has come to the fore at a vital time in which Liverpool have been under-strength and under-par in performance, earning a crucial six points from successive testing away games in the process.
More of the same across the final five games would be perfect.
Mignolet’s big moments
A game the Reds controlled for large parts, Mignolet had very little to do other than sweep up behind his defence for the majority of the Hawthorns clash.
That was until the 79th minute when Matt Philipps burst through one-on-one, leaving Klopp and his Reds teammates turning to the Belgian to come up big and bail us out with another vital stop.
With Reds around the globe taking a collective intake of breath, Mignolet spread himself superbly to deny the Baggies’ winger, superbly blocking Philipps’ attempted low finish to keep the Reds ahead.
Such moments cannot be underestimated, and it was certainly a points-preserving save from Mignolet, with the stop equally as crucial as Firmino’s match-winning header on the stroke of half-time.
For the second week running the Belgian provided when it was needed most, adding to the two incredible saves that earned all three points at Stoke City.
The Belgian then followed the vital save with some superb punches from crosses late on, as he displayed how he’s become a transformed ‘keeper in recent weeks, for which he deserves huge credit.
It was always expected that set-pieces would feature heavily at the Hawthorns, given West Brom’s proficiency and Liverpool’s struggles with them.
But no one foresaw it working out as it did, with a comical sense of irony seeing Klopp’s side benefit against the Premier League’s most effective set-piece outfit.
The Reds reportedly dedicated a full training session solely to preparing for West Brom’s threat, but it was their own that shocked the Baggies and won the game, with Firmino heading home from Lucas’ flick-on after Milner’s ball in.
Though slightly fortunate, with Lucas’ flick-on turning Milner’s poor delivery into a good one before finding Firmino, it was almost comical that the match-winning moment came from the completely opposite way almost everyone envisaged.
But while that was indeed ironic, Liverpool’s also deserve big praise for the way they defended corners and balls swung into their box, especially late on when the Baggies chucked everything they could at Klopp’s side.
Under bombardment, Mignolet came up with big punches, while the Reds stood strong and threw bodies on the line to compete under intense pressure, which was a welcome improvement and key to seeing the game out.
Five games to go…
Klopp said prior to the Hawthorns visit that finishing in the top four would be like winning a trophy for Liverpool this season.
Though no trophy or medals will be collected, his side certainly took a huge step to securing that metaphorical piece of silverware with a priceless victory in the Black Country.
Liverpool's 66 points, with 5 games remaining, is more than their total in all but one of their last 7 seasons. Improved.
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) April 16, 2017
It leaves the Reds sitting pretty in third place, with enough distance for now retained ahead of Man United, Arsenal and Everton, leaving all the pressure on those chasing clubs.
It also leaves Liverpool facing the prospect that three wins from the final five games may just be enough to secure a return to the Champions League, with rivals all to play each other and sure to drop points.
It’s crucial the Reds don’t look too far ahead though, with the full focus being solely on sealing another win against Crystal Palace next week.