Sunday 23 April 2017

Klopp lays curse of baseball cap to rest

West Brom 0  Liverpool 1

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino beats West Brom’s Craig Dawson to the ball to head home the game’s only goal. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino beats West Brom’s Craig Dawson to the ball to head home the game’s only goal. Photo: Getty Images

John Percy

The prospects of Liverpool operating in the Champions League will be reinforced having overcome the curse of the baseball cap.

Tony Pulis and his trademark headwear have proved a serial irritant over the years when Liverpool have visited the lair of the set-piece specialist, but Jurgen Klopp is the manager to finally break the hoodoo.

West Bromwich Albion's Darren Fletcher (left) and Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho in action. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
West Bromwich Albion's Darren Fletcher (left) and Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho in action. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Roberto Firmino's 11th league goal of the season lifted Liverpool back into third place and while Klopp acknowledged the importance of last weekend's victory at Stoke City, this felt like an even bigger statement.

Rafael Benitez, Kenny Dalglish, Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rodgers have all failed to win a Premier League game at the various venues of teams managed by Pulis, and recent history has been particularly unkind.

Supporters still recall the remarkable capitulation at Crystal Palace in May 2014, when Liverpool's title hopes disappeared after a 3-3 draw, with similar levels of dread reserved for a trip to an unpopular relative.

Yet there feels something different about this team under Klopp and they will have departed the Black Country increasingly confident of securing a top-four finish.

Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne (left) and West Bromwich Albion's Craig Dawson battle for the ball. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne (left) and West Bromwich Albion's Craig Dawson battle for the ball. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Liverpool even survived a madcap finish, which resembled Sunday morning park football, when Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster ventured upfield in added time to try to force an equaliser at a corner.

"It is one of the most difficult places to go because you can't feel comfortable in one moment of the game," said Klopp.

"I can understand why Liverpool have struggled [against Pulis teams] in the last nine years. Somebody asked which scoreline would have kept me a little calmer in the last few minutes, and I said, 'only 4-0 after 86 minutes'.

"We could only get to 66 points, so this feels perfect. Next week we try at Anfield to get 69, and let's carry on. It is the Premier League, they [Arsenal] have three, four, five games in hand so we should not think about this. If we do what we have to do, we will be where we want to be."

Liverpool's Alberto Moreno (right) shoots from distance towards the end of the game. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Liverpool's Alberto Moreno (right) shoots from distance towards the end of the game. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Albion have now failed to score in 375 minutes and this underlined where Pulis needs to spend in the summer.

His team have defied expectations this season and are still poised to finish above a cluster of teams with far bigger budgets, but they were unable to recreate the same hostile environment that left Arsenal bloodied and bruised last month.

This was still far from an easy assignment for Liverpool, however, and they could have gone behind after 23 minutes. Matt Phillips' cushioned cross required only a finishing touch from Nacer Chadli at the far post, but just as he was about to connect with the ball Firmino got the faintest of touches to unsettle the Belgian.

Liverpool dominated possession in a scrappy game and the goal finally arrived in first-half injury-time. The only surprise was it came from a set play, against a team adept at the art.

James Milner's free-kick from the right was not cleanly struck, but Lucas produced a crucial flick to find Firmino running in at the far post and he was presented with the simple task of heading in from five yards.

West Bromwich Albion's Matt Phillips (left) and Liverpool's Divock Origi battle for the ball. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
West Bromwich Albion's Matt Phillips (left) and Liverpool's Divock Origi battle for the ball. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

The free-kick, awarded for a foul on Divock Origi by Chris Brunt, sparked a fractious relationship between referee Jon Moss and Albion's supporters, which continued into the second-half.

Liverpool should have added a second in the 57th minute, after a fine move involving Nathaniel Clyne and Firmino, but Milner volleyed his shot over the bar.

Liverpool also required Simon Mignolet to prevent Phillips from scoring an equaliser 10 minutes from time, after the Albion attacker was sent clear on goal.

Mignolet will never completely escape his detractors, yet his save here, and one at Stoke the previous weekend, could prove vital when Klopp assesses the final months of the campaign.

It could have been even more comfortable for Liverpool, after a crazy finale out of sync with what had happened in the previous 90 minutes.

With Albion chasing an equaliser, Foster came up for the corner yet was caught in possession as Liverpool cleared.

Alberto Moreno, a substitute, advanced 50 yards and had only to strike the ball into the empty net, but somehow contrived to shoot wide.

Liverpool, though, had done enough and the final whistle drew wild celebrations from Klopp, who cannot possibly downplay the significance of this victory.

A 1-0 win away at a Pulis team, from a set play? (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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