Verdict: Sadio Mane to score
Best odds: 6/5
The top-four race in the Premier League took a few unexpected turns this week, starting with Leicester City beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday. Then came Arsenal’s triumph over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, and Liverpool repeated Leicester’s feat on Thursday and beat United in Manchester for the first time in seven years.
With the aim of taking full advantage of the current situation, Liverpool travel to West Bromwich to face the Baggies at the Hawthorns on Sunday.
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom’s season can hardly be described as a successful one, despite some terrific result – not least the point they snatched from Anfield. The biggest shock they managed to pull was inflicting Thomas Tuchel his first ever defeat as the Chelsea boss by putting five goals past the Champions League finalists at Stamford Bridge.
Nonetheless, their main goal for the campaign remained unfulfilled; their relegation to the Championship has been mathematically confirmed. The Baggies are in 19th place with 26 points, 11 less than Brighton and Hove Albion in 17th (the last to provide safety) with three matches to go. Replacing Slaven Bilic with Sam Allardyce in December obviously didn’t help, despite the reputation of ‘Big Sam’ for keeping teams in the Premier League. This will be the first time the 66-year-old failed that task in his career, and it remains to be seen if he’ll still be in the Hawthorns dugout next season.
West Brom’s form has recently been patchy. Their last six league games ended in two wins (2-5 away to Chelsea and 3-0 at home against Southampton), two draws (2-2 away to Aston Villa and 1-1 at home against Wolves), and two defeats (3-0 away to Leicester and 3-1 away to Arsenal).
Allardyce is expected to choose a strong lineup against the former champions, despite not having anything to play for but pride. However, he won’t be able to call upon the experience of winger Robert Snodgrass and defender Branislav Ivanovic, who are suffering from long-term injury issues.
Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles is back in contention, on the other hand, having missed the previous match due to not being eligible against his parent club.
West Brom’s motivation in the remaining matches may be questionable, but it could not be more different when it comes to Liverpool. The last year’s champions were at the top of the table at Christmas, but the drop of form that followed had them in serious doubt for top-four placement for quite a while. They seemed practically out of the race after dropping points against Leeds and Newcastle, but the wins in the last two matches, coupled with favourable results that happened elsewhere, put them right back into the driving seat.
Liverpool are currently fifth with 60 points, four less than Chelsea in fourth and seven less than Leicester in third, but those two teams have only two games each left on the agenda, and one of those will see them stand against each other, mere days after their clash in the FA Cup final today (Saturday). If Liverpool beat West Brom, and then Burnley away and Crystal Palace at home, they are practically certain to finish inside the top four.
It may sound strange to say at the moment, but Liverpool are undefeated in their last six league outings. They won 0-3 away to Arsenal, 2-1 at home against Aston Villa, drew 1-1 away to Leeds and had the same result against Newcastle at home, beat Southampton 3-1 at home, and then Manchester United away by 2-4.
Manager Jurgen Klopp still has a large number of players injured. Centre-backs Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, are out for the season. But if anyone thought the crisis in the heart of defence couldn’t get worse, the names of January signings Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies are now on the list too. That’s FIVE centre-backs missing. Klopp has recently used the inexperienced duo of Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams, but with Fabinho providing protection ahead of the back line, it actually looks quite decent.
In midfield, captain Jordan Henderson is also out until the summer. Naby Keita and James Milner are unavailable too, which makes it very likely that Fabinho will once again be joined by Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum, though young Curtis Jones, who came off the bench to provide the assist for Mohamed Salah’s final touch on the United clash, could get a start too.
Upfront, Sadio Mane made way for Diogo Jota in the lineup at Old Trafford, and having come on as a substitute in the second half, he was clearly unhappy with Klopp and his decision after the match. It remains to be seen whether Jota starts again, but it seems more likely Mane will play alongside Roberto Firmino and Salah this time.
Liverpool have been known to struggle against West Brom in the past, but this time they will surely go all-out for the three points. Quality and motivation are on their side beyond any doubt, and the Baggies will find it extremely hard to keep them out. If he starts, Mane will certainly do his best to prove Klopp was wrong in the previous game, despite the fact that Jota found himself on the scoresheet.
Verdict: Sadio Mane to score
Best odds: 6/5
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