Premier Preview: Liverpool V West Bromwich Albion
After a midweek break for a round of international friendlies, Liverpool return to action with a welcome home fixture at Anfield on Monday night.
Three consecutive games on the road produced contrasting performances and emotions as the Reds responded to a shock FA Cup exit by outplaying both Arsenal and reigning Premier League champions Manchester City.
Although both matches ended in a draw, Brendan Rodgers and his side earned lots of praise for the manner of their football which suggested brighter times may not be too far ahead.
Despite the plaudits however, Liverpool now trail the top four by nine points with West Brom just two places and two points further back in 9th.
The Baggies, managed by former Liverpool coach Steve Clarke, enjoyed an impressive start to the season but a run of six league games without a win leaves them desperate for an upturn in fortune.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers reserved special praise for his soon to be retired centre-back Jamie Carragher at Friday's pre-match press conference, saying: "In the modern game there are very few like him. You see a lot of rash defending now throughout the game.
"This is a guy who's a pure defender, he defends with great intelligence. He knows when to mark a man, when to mark the space. He understands the basic principles of defending.
"He's an outstanding leader and organiser in the team, and to find someone with all those capabilities and who has got the heart the size of a lion, is very, very difficult to find."
West Brom manager Steve Clarke has been busy of late fining and criticising certain players and he reflected on the issues by telling reporters: "For me, the most important thing is the team and the group of players we have.
"If one person lets them down and it costs you the game, then that, for me, is really disappointing. I've always been in control of my group. If you speak to any of them they will tell you I'm a fair-minded person - but they know how far to go. I've no problem exerting my authority. None whatsoever."
Liverpool Team News:
The big news away from the pitch this week was an announcement by veteran defender Jamie Carragher that he intends to hang up his boots at the end of the season. The 35-year-old has broken back into the team in recent games and will be guaranteed a tremendous reception when he steps out of the tunnel on Monday night. New signing Philippe Coutinho is available for a debut but the 19-year-old will probably be given more time to settle before being thrust into the limelight. Elsewhere, Rodgers is likely to stick with the side that caused City so many problems last weekend, although Daniel Sturridge picked up a thigh injury in the game and remains a doubt. Winger Raheem Sterling will be fully fit despite pulling out of England U21 duty with a dead leg. Therefore only long-term knee injury victims Martin Kelly, who signed a new contract this week, and Jon Flanagan are definitely ruled out.
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Sturridge.
Player to watch: Jamie Carragher
The saying 'You don't know what you've got until its gone' will no doubt apply to Carragher. Although worshipped by Reds around the world, the 35-year-old has perhaps never quite got the respect outside of L4 that he deserves. Despite making over 700 appearances the defender's attitude and approach to the game is still spot-on and in recent weeks the one-club man has been back in the starting eleven and providing his customary assurance to those around him. Liverpool will need another top performance against Lukaku and co in this fixture if the Reds are to secure all three points.
West Brom Team News:
The Baggies have been affected of late by a serious anterior cruciate injury to popular midfielder Zoltan Gera which will keep the Hungarian out until next season. Youngster George Thorne, who had benefitted from Gera's absence, has also succumbed to a nasty knee injury and faces a similarly lengthy spell on the sidelines. Thankfully Clarke can rely on the services of Youssuf Mulumbu once more after the DR Congo star returned from African Cup of Nations action. Macedonian international defender Goran Popov starts his three-match suspension for spitting at an opponent last weekend whilst striker Peter Odemwingie is unlikely to feature after being fined two weeks' wages following his attempt to force through a move to Queens Park Rangers last month. The combination of Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku will mean his absence is not too keenly felt and there's also Markus Rosenberg and Marc-Antoine Fortune in reserve if required. Jerome Thomas is doubtful though after a bout of flu.
Foster, Reid, Olsson, McAuley, Ridgewell, Dorrans, Yacob, Morrison, Brunt, Long, Lukaku.
Player to watch: Romelu Lukaku
The Belgium international hardly figured at Stamford Bridge last year despite being coveted around Europe ahead of his £18m move from Anderlecht. This year however the 19-year-old has shown everyone what all the fuss was about with a series of devastating performances. Lukaku's dominating physical presence has helped him bag nine goals so far but he also provides the side with a valuable outlet and a focal point for others to play off.
Match Facts & Stats
The two sides have met on 139 occasions in total with Liverpool recording 64 wins to West Brom's 37 (38 draws). The Reds have scored 205 goals overall compared to 152 by the Baggies.
After losing the first nine Premier League games against Liverpool without scoring a single goal, West Brom have won three of the last four (W3 L1).
The visitors may find goals hard to come by with Liverpool keping five clean sheets in their last six Premier League matches at Anfield including the last three in a row.
West Brom in comparison have kept just the one clean sheet in their last 29 Premier League away games although that was in a 1-0 win at Anfield in April 2012.
If the hosts do score it could well come from distance as they have scored the joint-most goals from outside the penalty area of any team in the top division (9), while West Brom have conceded the joint-most from long range going into the weekend (also 9).
Should they feature tonight then both Lucas Leiva and Glen Johnson will reach personal landmarks in their Liverpool careers. Lucas is inline for his 200th appearance whilst Johnson will make his 100th.
42-year-old whistle blower Jonathan Moss is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The Tyne and Wear based headteacher is in his second season amongst the Select Group of Referees that take charge of Premier League fixtures. So far during the 2012-2013 campaign Moss has shown 56 yellow and 1 red card in 21 games. Both Liverpool and West Brom have encountered Moss previously of late with the Baggies losing 2-0 away to Manchester United in December and the Reds drawing 0-0 at Swansea during November.
After the promise shown during the draws away to Arsenal and Manchester City recently it will be interesting to see how Liverpool react to the pressure of a game they should win in front of their own fans. One thing is for sure; the atmosphere will be electric as Anfield comes together to show its appreciation for vice-captain and club hero Jamie Carragher. Few Liverpool players have maintained standards as high as 'Carra' over a lean couple of decades at the club and his presence will be sorely missed both on and off the pitch. The aim for the rest of the season will be to give him the best send off possible and a victory against West Brom will be the perfect start.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 3-1 home win
Liverpool - Europa League v Zenit Saint Petersburg at the Petrovsky Stadium on Thursday 14th February 2013, kick off 5.00pm.
West Bromwich Albion - Premier League v Sunderland at The Hawthorns on Saturday 23rd February 2013, kick off 3.00pm.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right...
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
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