West Brom host Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday lunchtime, but do the Baggies have any chance of springing a surprise?
The two sides meet at the Hawthorns this weekend, having enjoyed very different fortunes this season.
While the Reds sit third in the table and are looking forward to a Champions League semi-final with AS Roma, the Baggies are all but relegated back to the Championship.
Victory at Man United last Sunday has given them a glimmer of hope, however, and three points against Jurgen Klopp‘s side could make the impossible seem possible.
Ahead of the game we had a chat with Paul Suart (@PaulSuartWBA), senior sports writer for the Birmingham Mail, to discuss West Brom‘s season, Liverpool’s Champions League hopes and much more.
West Brom sit rock-bottom of the Premier League and are all but relegated. Where has it all gone wrong?
How long have you got?
In short, Albion’s recruitment last summer was deemed a success, but signing cast-offs from bigger clubs, with questionable motivation, hasn’t worked out.
While talented, the squad was lopsided and crammed with far too many central-minded players. More creativity in offensive areas was needed—a flaw exposed by long-term injuries to Nacer Chadli and James Morrison.
Albion’s fitness and concentration levels must also be questioned.
No team has lost anywhere near as many points from winning positions as the Baggies. Had they held on to even half of those leads they would be mid-table.
Perhaps the biggest downfall was the appointment of Alan Pardew, for whom nothing went right during his brief tenure.
Apart from, of course, Albion’s shock FA Cup win at Anfield in January!
The Baggies do at least look reinvigorated under Darren Moore—would you persevere with him next season?
Darren Moore has galvanised the players, of that there is no doubt. But I don’t think he’s quite ready for a position in management and I’m sure he would admit that himself.
He should be retained as a first-team coach—someone who can help to gee up the players for a crack at promotion back to the Premier League.
Who have been West Brom’s three best players this season?
Ahmed Hegazi has made a few errors recently, but overall has enjoyed a relatively solid season.
The same could be said of Kieran Gibbs, although his body language in matches towards the end of Pardew’s reign spoke volumes.
Gareth Barry’s fall from grace has been astonishing. The game after the ‘taxi-gate’ scandal was easily his worst of the season.
It was as if the most experienced player in Premier League history wanted the ground to swallow him up. He was booed when substituted in the home defeat to Huddersfield—a game that hammered a hefty nail in Albion’s survival coffin—and hasn’t played since.
He’s not likely to feature again this season having undergone minor knee surgery. Just to rile fans further, pictures of him in a Birmingham nightclub emerged on social media the night before Albion’s game against Burnley.
In his defence, Barry was injured and unavailable for the game.
Albion’s best three players? Slim pickings, but I’d definitely say Ben Foster leads the way followed perhaps by Hegazi and Jay Rodriguez, who has suddenly found some form.
Any who have been particularly poor?
Jonny Evans hasn’t reached anything like the levels of his first two seasons.
Invariably, Albion look a better team when he doesn’t play. Three of West Brom‘s four league wins have been achieved without him.
Matt Phillips has struggled massively, mainly with a lack of confidence, but Moore’s arrival seems to have lifted his spirits and performances.
Has there been anything of note from Daniel Sturridge since his loan move to the Hawthorns?
I hold my hands up. I felt Albion should have moved for Sturridge long before January, but his loan move has been disastrous.
I ignored fears about his fitness, which Liverpool fans know about all too well. Sadly they have been proved right.
West Brom were understood to have stumped up a £1.5 million loan fee and agreed to cover his £120,000-a-week wages.
It has been a costly failure.
What have you made of Liverpool’s campaign as a whole?
That defeat at Tottenham seemed to be a kick up the backside.
Liverpool have been brilliant since then, and might have challenged Man City had they not started the season so slowly.
As an attacking force, the Reds are just as easy on the eye as City, while Virgil van Dijk‘s arrival has helped to shore things up at the back.
Andrew Robertson deserves a mention too. He’s been brilliant in recent weeks.
Do you think they will win the Champions League?
Lord only knows—I was convinced Barcelona would win it!
Having seen what happened to them, probably best if I don’t back Liverpool.
If you could pick one Reds player who you think would improve West Brom the most, who would it be?
Mohamed Salah would probably improve any team in world football, but to be different, I’ll go left-field and pick Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The knives were out after he was particularly poor in the League Cup defeat at Leicester City back in September, but his response has been nothing short of incredible.
Under Jurgen Klopp, he is turning into the player Arsene Wenger never allowed him to be. I was especially impressed by his performance in the first Champions League game against City.
Albion have been overrun in central midfield in a number of matches, so Oxlade-Chamberlain’s drive and industry would be most welcome in the engine room. He pops up with the odd goal, too.
He would improve Albion no end, and could be a real force for England in Russia this summer.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, where will the key battles take place?
I don’t imagine Klopp will name his strongest team with Roma looming so it’s hard to say.
If you contain Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane you go some way to stopping Liverpool, although saying it and doing it are two very different matters.
The Reds might not have it all their own way, though.
Rodriguez, the scourge of Liverpool at Anfield, is back among the goals and looking a real handful under Moore. He and Salomon Rondon could cause Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren real problems.
Finally, hit me with your prediction…
I doubt Klopp will see it this way, but the Liverpool players—and certainly fans—will want revenge for the FA Cup defeat.
Albion’s three best displays under Pardew were all in Liverpool (one at Goodison Park). He’s no longer around, but the good vibes from last weekend’s win at Old Trafford might inspire Albion to earn a draw.
That and the fact some of Liverpool’s big guns might be rested means I’ll go with a lively 1-1 draw.