West Bromwich Albion’s disappointing season comes to a close on Sunday at the Hawthorns with a match against Europa League finalists, Liverpool. The Baggies are on a run of eight games without a win, and they have failed to score in any of the last three games at the Hawthorns since the 1-0 win over Manchester United two months ago.
Failure to win will mean that Tony Pulis’s team will have failed to match last season’s points total and, should Bournemouth better Albion’s result in their trip to Old Trafford, they would finish in 16th place. A win could, however, lift them as high as 12th, although it would do little to disguise what has been a hugely frustrating season.
I am hoping that this will be the Welshman’s last game in charge at the Hawthorns for the reasons outlined in my article on Thursday, although I would still like to see the Baggies win their final game, something which they have achieved only once in their Premier League history, which was, of course, against Portsmouth in the Great Escape season of 2004/05.
At Anfield back in December, Liverpool celebrated the last minute goal to grab a point against the Baggies as if it was a trophy. Five months later, they now stand on the verge of winning silverware and Albion’s chances of a victory may be enhanced by Jürgen Klopp’s team selection as his attention will surely be focussed on the Europa League Final against Sevilla on Wednesday evening.
Having said that, should Liverpool lose in Basel, they will need to have finished at least seventh in the league to qualify for European football, and even that would be relying on rivals, Manchester United, winning the FA Cup. The Reds currently sit in eighth place, so even victory over Albion will not guarantee European football particularly with seventh-placed Southampton facing United’s FA Cup final opponents on Sunday, So Klopp has a difficult decision to make on whether to play a full strength side at the Hawthorns – winning the Europa League final is probably their best chance of European qualification.
West Bromwich Albion have announced this week that the club will make its own special tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster following the recent verdict of the long-overdue inquiry. 96 blue seats will be turned red and left empty for Sunday’s match to honour the 96 victims. Knowing that Liverpool were the visitors on the last day of the season, the club decided to wait to pay their own respects following the conclusion of the inquiry, and this gesture seems a fitting tribute.
Having not scored a goal, never mind registered a point, against Liverpool in their first nine meetings in the Premier League, Albion have picked up four victories in the ten games since. The Reds have failed to win in their last three visits to the Hawthorns in the league, although they did win a League Cup tie at the Shrine back in 2012.
There have been many memorable games between the two sides over the years, not least the meeting at Anfield in February 1979 which was pivotal in that year’s title race. Ron Atkinson’s Albion side had taken Division One by storm and won six successive games in December 1978 including a 2-0 win over Mario Kempes’s Valencia in the UEFA Cup and back-to-back away wins at Highbury and Old Trafford playing a brand of exciting attacking football that is as far from Tony Pulis’s style as there could be.
A 1-1 draw at Carrow Road saw Albion move a point clear of Liverpool at the top of the table in mid-January. A cold snap meant that the Baggies did not play another league match for three weeks before they visited Anfield on 3rd February. Liverpool won the match 2-1 with goals from David Fairclough and Kenny Dalglish cancelling out a strike by Ally Brown and moved back to the top of the table. The weather intervened again and with FA Cup replays and UEFA Cup ties, the Baggies ended up playing nine games in March, eight games in April and another six before the season’s end on 18th May.
Without the squad depth of today, the number of games took its toll and Albion could only finish 3rd. Liverpool, who played three fewer games in those final three months having lost to Nottingham Forest in the first round of the European Cup, lost only once (at Villa Park) in the league in the second half of the season and ended eight points clear of Forest with the Baggies one point further back.
Two seasons later Albion finished higher than Liverpool as they grabbed fourth place ahead of the Reds in fifth. That is the only time that the Baggies have finished higher in the table since Shankly’s side were promoted in 1962. It was thanks in no small part to the 2-0 win at the Hawthorns in February 1981, memorable for the cheeky back heel by Bryan Robson late in the first half. Cyrille Regis grabbed the second with four minutes to go.
The hosts will be without Chris Brunt but it remains to be seen whether James Morrison will be fit enough to make the squad. The ex-United pair of Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans are both slight doubts, as is Stéphane Sessègnon through illness, while Alex Pritchard conitnues to struggle with an injury and is unlikely to add to his three substitute appearances for the Baggies.
Jordan Henderson is out for the season but Danny Ings is back training after an ACL injury last October and has an outside chance of making the squad. Sunday may be a little early for Divock Origi although he may be fit enough for the Europa League final, which means that Daniel Sturridge may get another start to prove his form and fitness ahead of Roy Hodgson naming his Euro 2016 squad on Monday.
Whatever side Klopp picks, this will be a tough test for the Baggies. If Klopp does rest some of his stars ahead of the game in Basel, those who come in will want to work extra-hard to show the German that they are worthy of a place in the squad for the final – perhaps playing a strong team would help Albion as the Liverpool players might shirk the odd challenge to protect themselves from injury, although there are plenty in that Liverpool team who only know one way to play, and wouldn’t countenance that approach.
I can’t see Albion ending their winless run, and I think that Jürgen Klopp’s team will leave the Hawthorns with all three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
13 Dec 2015 – Premier League
Liverpool 2 (Henderson, Origi)
West Brom 2 (Dawson, Olsson)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
25 Apr 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 0
11 Feb 2013 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (McAuley, Lukaku)
Last win at the Hawthorns
18 Aug 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Gera, Odemwingie (pen), Lukaku)
Albion’s Record against Liverpool
|Premier League Record|