Today at 3pm, The Hawthornes will stage the beginning of Liverpool’s 2012/13 Premier League campaign as the Reds visit West Bromwich Albion. This match marks the first league match for Liverpool under the management of Brendan Rodgers and he will want to get off to a good start against a team now managed by former Liverpool assistant manager Steve Clarke.
After a couple of so-so pre-season performances the Reds burst into life in the Europa League home match against Gomel and followed it up with another impressive performance in a friendly match at home to Bayer Leverkusen, which marked the return to Anfield of Sami Hyypia in his new role as Leverkusen manager. Liverpool will be looking to take that form into the league campaign, starting with West Brom away.
The Liverpool Word has asked six of its writers to come together in another round-table discussion, to give their views on Liverpool’s likely line-up and other aspects of the match.
Here are Stuart Quigley, Karl Matchett, Michael Kline, Matthew Volpi, Tony Lucadamo and Dave Hendrick with their take on the first competitive home game of the season
TLW - Let’s start with getting your prediction of the starting 11 vs West Brom
Stuart - Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Gerrard, Allen, Downing, Suarez, Borini.
Matt - Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Borini, Suarez, Downing. It’s too soon for Assaidi and Allen in my opinion, although I expect the latter will figure later on in the match.
Michael - I think Brendan Rodgers will make only a slight change to the squad he fielded against FC Gomel: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Allen, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Borini.
Tony - Reina, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique, Lucas, Allen, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Borini
Karl - Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique; Lucas, Shelvey, Gerrard; Downing, Suarez, Borini.
Dave - Using the bib theory I’ll go with Reina in goal. Back four of Kelly-Skrtel-Agger-Johnson. Midfield three of Lucas-Allen-Gerrard. Front three of Downing-Suarez-Borini
TLW - Which 3 LFC players are you counting on to turn in big performances?
Matt - If Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard can link up the way they did against Gomel, we could be seeing 15+ goals from each of them this season. Their movement, understanding and passing is integral to everything we do going forward, and Suarez’s ridiculous dribbling ability can always provide the extra bit of skill you need to break down a stubborn defence. I also expect a lot from Agger. It seems set that he will stay now, and I think he, Rodgers and of course, the fans, are extremely happy about that. I expect him to go out and show what he can do. A lot of the football we play comes directly from him and he really helps build those passing moves, as well as organising the defence brilliantly.
Michael - I will be looking for big performances from Jose Enrique, Lucas and Luis Suarez. Jose Enrique has looked rather rusty over the course of the preseason, finally showing a glimpse of good form in the second match against FC Gomel. I want to see that form continued against West Brom this weekend. Lucas will be making his return to the Premier League on Saturday, and what better way than with a man of the match performance against The Baggies? Lucas’ presence in the side will tilt the possession and our favor and will allow Steven Gerrard to surge forward in offense. And last but not least, I will look for Suarez to have a monster match and open his Premier League campaign in style. This season presents a new opportunity for Suarez. The opportunity to silence the critics, play in a system that compliments his football skills and put his world class ability on display with a squad built around him.
Tony - Suarez has to come first after his stand out performance against Gomel. I’ll look for Downing and Borini to play off of him successfully as well. Downing seems to be gaining in confidence which is both startling and promising.
Karl - The front three more than anyone else. the movement off the ball and pressing from that set of players will set the tone for how the rest of the team play. And, of course, they are the most likely trio to set up or score the goals which we hope will win us the game.
Dave - Obviously our key men are Agger at the back, Lucas and Gerrard in midfield and Suarez in attack but for me, the three players I’ll be looking towards for big performances will be Glen Johnson, Joe Allen and Stewart Downing. I’ve never been a big fan of Johnson who I feel has greatly underachieved since arriving at Liverpool at an inflated price. None of the three managers he has worked under at Liverpool have utilized him properly but I think Rodgers might be the man to get the best from him. Allen is going to be a key player for Liverpool for many years to come and today will be his first opportunity to show certain doubters just why Brendan Rodgers was so anxious to get him to the club. And in terms of Downing, he was a massive flop last season but Rodgers may have found a way to get the best of him by using him in a narrower position and closer to goal. Liverpool have been linked with a number of players who can fill his position so he needs to turn in a big performance today, and give Rodgers reason to have a re-think about whether or not he really needs a new signing for that position.
Stuart - Lucas, Lucas and Lucas. He’ll be here, there and everywhere. In all seriousness, the other two I would go for are Suarez and Agger. Gerrard will do what he’s always done but we’ll need the other two I’ve mentioned to rubber stamp the good work I expect we’ll do in midfield.
TLW – Which WBA players do we need to be wary of?
Michael - Brendan Rodgers will need to be cautious of Steve Clarke’s attacking options. Clarke will miss James Morrison in the midfield, but he still has Peter Odemwingie, Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku in attack. Lukaku has recently been sent on a loan move from Chelsea to West Brom, so there is no telling how many minutes Clarke will give him; however, the recently acquired striker netted a goal while on international duty for Belgium this week, and he will surely look to carry that form into the match on Saturday. Odemwingie and Long combined for 18 Premier League goals last season, more than Liverpool’s striking tandem, and will likely lead the attack this weekend. The last time Liverpool faced West Brom, a 78th minute Peter Odemqingie winner saw Roy Hodgson’s side pick up 3 points at Anfield.
Tony - The trick against the Hawthorns will be finding a breakthrough goal early. The longer this stay 0-0, the better it looks for the visitors. With that in mind, Ben Foster comes to mind as a player who could hinder Liverpool. I am not sure if he gets minutes so soon, but Romelu Lukaku is physical enough to score a few frustrating goals against the run of play as well.
Karl - Shane Long. I think with our full backs pushing on more we will likely get caught on the break a few times early this season and he works the channels really well. If Morrison picks up where he left off last season then he will also be a threat.
Dave - I’m not impressed by their business this summer to be honest. When I look at their squad, I see Shane Long as their number one man. He’s probably the only West Brom player I’d want at Liverpool, and he’s the one we’ll have to keep a close eye on.
Stuart - Now that Lukaku is out of that dressing room, he may actually show that there’s more to him than dreadlocks. Odemwingie and Shane Long are dangerous players too, Long I especially rate as he won’t leave you alone. How many of those actually fit into the team I’m not sure.
Matt - I went to see Reading a couple of times the season before last, as I have a mate who is a fan, and Shane Long looks a really decent striker. He missed a fair bit of last season through injury but he still scored 8 goals, which isn’t too bad for a club like West Brom. I also think Lukaku could be a worry. He was fairly non-existent for Chelsea last season but he’s a big lad and when he’s on form, he’s very impressive. Saying that, we have Agger and Skrtel, so I’m not too worried. Touch wood!
TLW – How do you think former Liverpool assistant manager Steve Clarke will fare at West Brom this season?
Tony - Inheriting a Roy Hodgson managed side is no easy task. The England manager does not really build club teams to thrive so much as survive. Hodgson is the ideal mid-table boss. He gets the most out of average talent, keeps a low profile, and runs a staunch enough 4-4-2 to frustrate and pull out a few surprising wins. That said, he takes few risks and does not do a ton in the way of investing in the future. Thus, I think Clarke has his work cut out for him. The former Liverpool assistant has an un-enviable task ahead if he wants to do something ambitious with that group.
Karl - He’ll get the whole season, and finish in the bottom half. I’m not impressed with their purchases this summer and think they’ll be more solid than spectacular. Depends how they take to his changes really, but can see them ending about 14th, which for his first season in sole charge he probably won’t be too disappointed with.
Dave - I’m not and never have been a fan of Steve Clarke if I’m honest. His entire reputation is based off his time at Chelsea where the public perception is that he was a key part of the success there, but the reality is that he was no more than a yes man for Jose Mourinho. Have a look at his entire career as an assistant manager and you’ll see that every manager he’s been assistant to – Gullit, Mourinho, Grant, Zola, Dalglish – has ended up getting the sack. There was a lot of talk about the impact he had on Liverpool’s defense which I thing was misplaced praise. Agger was the reason for the defense being so good last season. Look at the results with and without him. Look at Skrtel’s career without Agger. Pretty clear who deserves the credit in my opinion. I was quite happy when he left Liverpool and thought it was a very weak appointment from West Brom who clearly went for the cheapest possible option to replace Hodgson. I can see him getting the sack by Christmas.
Stuart - I’m a little tentative about the fate of Steve Clarke. I really like him but there’s every chance he won’t do all that well. He has an advantage in that his predecessor played the worst kind of football known to man, so in that respect he can only be an improvement. I would see finishing outside the relegation places as sucess for the Baggies, so long as that’s what they’re going for and not some lofty goal of finishing in the top ten then I think Clarke could acchieve that. They will be solid if not spectacular and there are worse teams out there. I wish him all the best.
Matt - Not too well. He’s 49 and he’s only just managed to make the move into manager after so many years as a coach, and that says it all. One of my main criticisms of Liverpool last season is that the players didn’t look like they knew what their job was; that they were simply sent out to play a position and not much more than that. While part of that is due to Dalglish, Steve Clarke was the first team coach and it was also his responsibility to educate the players as to their roles and duties. He’s also taking over from the Hodge, who, although I hate to say it, had a great season at the Hawthorns before he left.
Michael - I think Steve Clarke will do a fine job at West Brom this season. West Brom is a respectable club with a good history in top-flight football. Clarke will inherit a capable team and perform above expectations with them.
TLW – Predict the score, and first goal scorer.
Karl - 4-1 win for Liverpool. Steven Gerrard to score the first goal.
Dave - 3-1 to Liverpool. Agger with the first.
Stuart - West Brom 1-3 Liverpool. Martin Skrtel first goalscorer.
Matt - 3-0 to Liverpool. Suarez. Borini. Suarez. I definitely think my excitement is clouding my judgement, but I’m gonna go with it.
Michael - Brendan Rodgers will win his first Premier League match as Liverpool manager with a 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool will surely delight with the majority of possession, finally finding the breakthrough with a Luis Suarez’s 1st, of 16 goals this season, in the 63rd minute. There will be some rustiness and chemistry issues, but the result will be earned and that’s all that matters at this point.
Tony - Liverpool 2-0. Goals from Suarez, and Agger from a set piece.