As part of our new Premier League Snap-shots feature, Rachel Griffiths looks back at Liverpool's 3-0 defeat at West Brom
Last Updated: 18/08/12 8:02pm
Two new managers went head-to-head at The Hawthorns as Brendan Rodgers and Steve Clarke took charge of their first Premier League games in charge of Liverpool and West Brom respectively.
But there were contrasting results to the debuts as the Baggies stunned their visitors with a 3-0 victory as the Reds' game unravelled.
There were no big surprises in Brendan Rodgers' choice of starting XI, particularly in attack, with Luis Suarez spearheading the frontline and Andy Carroll on the bench. The manager has already made it clear this summer that the centre-forward does not necessarily have a place in his plans, with the physical striker at odds with the manager's patient passing game. Stewart Downing was preferred out wide to Joe Cole, back from his loan spell at Lille and eager to win back a place in the team, but the winger had a miserable afternoon. New signings Joe Allen and Fabio Borini were awarded debuts.
Steve Clarke had Zoltan Gera back at his disposal after a lengthy injury lay-off and he crowned his return with a sensational goal. Gera formed part of a hard-working frontline which saw Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie pose significant threat, while James Morrison pulled the strings in midfield with new signing Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu providing support to a formidable back four.
Both new bosses opted for attacking 4-3-3 formations but while Rodgers saw Swansea flourish in the set-up last season, Liverpool looked far from comfortable, with the formation highlighting weaknesses within the side. The Reds boasted most of the possession and chances in the first half and there were glimpses of Rodgers' passing play. However, as things collapsed after Gera's goal it became less and less evident. As was a frustration in their last campaign, they were unable to find the end product to their opportunities. Downing was mostly anonymous out wide and contributed some woeful crosses, while new-boy Borini struggled to find his feet, often appearing sloppy. Suarez looked lively at the head of attack and could have had a hat-trick in the first half alone, but was once again lacking the all-important finish. At the back, a shaky defence was exposed, with Skrtel and Agger, ahead of his sending-off, enduring an afternoon to forget.
Steve Clarke's Baggies, in contrast, flourished in a formation which saw Long lead the line flanked by Odemwingie and a revived Gera while Morrison was an inspirational figure providing support from midfield. The set-up allowed Liam Ridgewell to get forward in the full-back role, looking threatening down the left and providing the assist to Romelu Lukaku's goal. Ridgewell formed part of a solid-looking Albion back four, benefitting from the imposing presence of Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson in central defence, who consistently held off the threat of Suarez.
It was a mixed afternoon for Liverpool's new signings as forward Borini and midfielder Joe Allen took the stage, with former Heerenveen winger Oussama Assaidi not signed in time to feature. For young Italian Borini it was an uncomfortable introduction to life in the Premier League, with mistakes plaguing his first half in particular, while he struggled to deal with the Baggies' physical defence. Allen, on the other hand, adapted well despite the difficult circumstances, knitting admirably into midfield. There was little to be seen of Rodgers' trademark style but when it did make an appearance the former Swansea midfielder was usually involved.
Clarke included just one summer signing in his starting line-up, Argentina international Yacob, and he settled in well to the Baggies' midfield, providing defensive cover in front of the back four alongside an impressive Mulumbu. The pair combined well to keep things composed in the middle of the park, hinting at what could be a key partnership for the Baggies this season. The other new face to make an appearance for Albion was teenage frontman Lukaku, who didn't disappoint. Coming off the bench with just over 20 minutes remaining, the Chelsea loanee hinted at what he had to offer when he set up Morrison with a pinpoint cross, but the midfielder failed to keep his shot down. Lukaku then made sure his was a debut to remember when he climbed to neatly nod home Ridgewell's cross late on, crowning a cameo which will have Baggies fans eager to see more.
After an ineffectual performance from Downing in the first half, some Liverpool fans will have been calling for Cole to make an appearance after he started the clash on the bench. Back from his loan stint at Lille, Cole was brought on by Rodgers with just over 20 minutes remaining but his appearance was short-lived as the boss hauled him off for Andy Carroll just 11 minutes later after he reportedly picked up an injury to add to Liverpool's nightmare afternoon. The midfielder might have appeared earlier had Rodgers not had to make a hasty change after Daniel Agger's dismissal, introducing Jamie Carragher to steady the ship. The veteran defender made little impression, however, as the back four was torn apart for the Baggies' third goal. As the minutes trickled down, Carroll had appeared unlikely to make an entrance, but was thrown on with 10 minutes remaining as Rodgers made a last-ditch attempt to turn things around. Carroll worked hard but it was Albion on the front foot in the dying minutes and the big centre-forward came off with only a yellow card to show for his efforts.
Clarke introduced a substitution double-whammy 20 minutes from time in Lukaku and Marc-Antoine Fortune, with goalscorers Odemwingie and a tired Gera making way, and neither disappointed. While the teenager looked lively and dangerous, as mentioned, Fortune refused to let him hog the spotlight, working hard to help breathe life into Albion's late onslaught and trying his luck with a great shot that prompted a crucial save from Reina, one of Liverpool's bright performers. Chris Brunt was Clarke's final introduction, replacing the superb Morrison, and while he was limited to eight minutes on the pitch he kept things neat in midfield.
There were echoes of last season in both sides' efforts and unfortunately for Liverpool it was a frustrating lack of finishing that once again hung over their game. As was the case last term, the Reds enjoyed plenty of possession and chances but failed to find the end product, with Suarez the most obvious culprit, fluffing his lines four times in the first half alone.
For the Baggies the familiar aspect of their game was a welcome one as they continued to show the discipline and organisation implemented by Roy Hodgson last season, which Clarke is evidently keen to maintain.
Some controversial decisions from referee Phil Dowd shaped a dramatic game, with Rodgers branding both penalty calls that went against Liverpool "harsh" in his post-match interview. The official will not have made himself any friends among the Merseyside faithful after awarding two arguably soft spot-kicks, while Reds fans were probably already disgruntled after his questionable booking of Luis Suarez for dissent on the stroke of half-time.
Liverpool will be keen to move straight on from this one, with only some superb goalkeeping from Reina keeping the Reds from what could have been humiliation by a hefty scoreline in the late stages. New signing Allen showed promise but from what was seen of Borini it could take the Italian time to settle. It was an evenly matched first half but Rodgers acknowledged his side's lack of firepower after the game and it remains to be seen if this is something he will address in the final days of the transfer window, with the manager evidently reluctant to call on Andy Carroll. The manager has been tasked with reviving Liverpool's fortunes and while the transformation won't happen overnight, Saturday's display shows he still has plenty of work to do.
West Brom can take plenty of positives from a bright start to the campaign, and Clarke will be pleased to have got off to a winning start. Shane Long's bafflingly poor penalty miss was a down point to an otherwise impressive display and though it is only (very) early days, the Baggies can look to their next game with confidence.