Just over six weeks after their last visit, the Baggies return to Anfield for a Fourth Round FA Cup tie looking to continue their recent upturn in form, although Alan Pardew will have a decision to make as to whether to pick a full strength team or to rest players ahead of the trip to the Etihad on Wednesday evening.
The main talking point about the fixture has little to do with the football, however, as the decision by BT Sport to televise the fixture to kick off at 7.45pm on Saturday evening. While the Saturday tea time fixtures have become commonplace in the last few years, with even the FA Cup Final having controversially been moved from the traditional 3pm slot, the later evening slot has not been a feature of football in England. The Premier League announced in December that there would be eight Saturday 7.45pm games per season as part of the next TV deal that starts in 2019, while the Premier League fixture between Leicester City and Manchester United on 23rd December last year was the first ever English top flight fixture to kick off at that time. This fixture will be the first ever FA Cup tie to be played on a Saturday evening at 7.45pm.
Historic it may be, it is less than popular with fans. With the last train from Liverpool to Birmingham leaving before the game is due to finish, travel for away fans is a problem. The club have laid on free coaches to encourage fans to travel, but initial poor ticket sales led them to requesting an allocation of just 1,800 which left some fans disappointed when it sold out. I have some sympathy with the club as they had to make a final decision on the allocation last week, but there is always the argument that the club could have afforded to be left holding a few unsold tickets by taking a 3,000 allocation which may not have sold out.
There may be just 1,800 Albion fans there, as opposed to the 8,000+ that could have been there had it been a 3pm kick off, but they will be just as enthusiastic and will be hoping Pardew’s team can better the 0-0 draw they achieved at the same stadium back in December. The Baggies are on a three-match unbeaten run having earned a creditable point, that could have easily been three, on the other side of Stanley Park last Saturday, but that pales into insignificance against the Reds’ 18-match unbeaten run that game to an end at the Liberty Stadium on Monday evening.
The defeat to Swansea was obviously unwelcome for Albion fans as it saw the Swans move level on points with the Baggies at the bottom of the table, but it is debatable as to whether it will have any impact as to Liverpool’s approach to the cup tie. Klopp’s players may be motivated to avoid a repeat of a defeat to a club at the bottom of the Premier League, not to mention gaining some sort of revenge for not beating the Baggies last month, but how many of the team will the bespectacled German select for the match?
Klopp is in his third season at Anfield and is yet to win a trophy. Against Everton in the third round, he selected pretty much a full strength side suggesting that he was taking the FA Cup seriously, although he had the benefit of a nine-day break before their next fixture against Manchester City. Furthermore, a match against their local rivals can never be taken anything other than seriously. This time, it’s Albion and their next match is a trip to Huddersfield on Tuesday night. Liverpool are still in the top four, but the defeat to Swansea means that Spurs are just two points behind with Arsenal a further three points back – it’s going to be an almighty scrap for Champions League qualification this season and Klopp may decide that he can afford to rest one or two on Saturday.
Obviously, the same, or a similar, decision faces Alan Pardew. There is no question that Premier League survival is more important to the club than a cup run, something that Alan Pardew has admitted this week. However, the 1,800 fans that are travelling to Anfield do not want to see a selection that smacks of surrender. The Baggies have an extra day before their next fixture against Manchester City on Wednesday, but the key factor, in my opinion, is momentum. Play a much-weakened side and suffer a heavy defeat and the fragile confidence that has been built up in recent weeks will vanish. Furthermore, while the likes of Wolves and Palace have proved that City don’t win every game, a specific plan to rest players for what is essentially a free hit at the Etihad is questionable.
The other factor that could impact selection is the transfer window. Jonny Evans suffered a concussion in the match at Goodison Park and, at the time of writing, there has been no further news on his condition other than that he would be monitored this week. However, with Pardew’s stated deadline in agreeing to sell his skipper “three or four days” before the end of the window passing this weekend, it could be that the Northern Irish international is required elsewhere.
On the incoming side, there has still been nothing from the club, although it has been widely reported that Hegazi’s Egyptian teammate, Ali Gabr, is all set to sign, initially on loan. Whether that has any contingency on the Evans situation is unclear, although his club seem to be convinced that the deal is already done. The list of strikers and attacking players linked grows ever longer, most of which I’m sure are pure fantasy, but I just hope that there are one or two lined up just waiting for this weekend to pass, and thus the Evans situation to be resolved.
The fact remains that, so far, the board have not stepped up to the plate in this window. I’m still confused as to why Financial Fair Play, a calculation that is made over three years’ accounts, can be so all-important in this one window, but something needs to be done before Wednesday evening.
Saturday will be the eleventh time that Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion have met in the FA Cup, although the first time for half a century. The first two meetings took place in the 19th century as Liverpool visited Albion’s Stoney Lane home in 1897 and 1899 and came away victorious. In 1900, the two clubs were paired again, and the Baggies progressed for the first time against Liverpool winning a replay 2-1 at Stoney Lane after a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
The Baggies only FA Cup win at Anfield came in a second round tie in 1922 when Stan Davies scored the only goal of the game while Albion also progressed from the third round tie in 1933 when WG Richardson and Stan Wood were on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win at the Hawthorns.
The clubs were not then drawn together for more than thirty years but were paired twice in three years and, on both occasions, the victors went on to lift the trophy. At the Hawthorns on 9th January 1965, Bill Shankley’s Liverpool were the visitors for a third round tie and took a 2-0 lead with goals either side of half time from Roger Hunt and Ian St. John. Jeff Astle scored a consolation goal with ten minutes to go but the Reds progressed. They went on to win the FA Cup for the first time that May with a 2-1 extra time win over Leeds United with the same two players scoring.
Three years later, it was an epic sixth round tie that pitched the sides against one another once again. After a goalless draw at the Hawthorns in the first game, a 1-1 draw was played out Anfield with Jeff Astle levelling after Tony Hateley had given the hosts a first half lead. The second replay was held at Maine Road, Manchester, and this time the Baggies took an early lead through Astle and it was Hateley that equalised before the break. A second half goal from Chippy Clark was enough to finally win the tie for the Baggies, and the rest is laid out in Albion folklore.
Since then, there have been no FA Cup meetings although the clubs have been drawn against each other in the League Cup on four occasions with the clubs gaining one win apiece over two legs in the seventies, while Liverpool have won twice in one-off games at the Hawthorns in 1997, and most recently in 2012 when Gabriel Tamas’s early opener for the Baggies was bettered by two goals from Nuri Sahin (remember him?).
Liverpool will be massive favourites for the game but I have a funny feeling that the Baggies might cause an upset. Pardew will shuffle the pack a little, resting the likes of Barry, Brunt and Evans, but I don’t think there’ll be wholesale changes. I can see Klopp making a fair few changes, however, and I think a lack of familiarity between some of the players could result in another under par performance – Albion to knick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
13 Dec 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 0
11 Feb 2013 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (McAuley, Lukaku)
Albion’s Record against Liverpool
|Premier League Record|