Liverpool endure nervy finish but impress again in victory over West Brom
Published 22/10/2016 | 19:40
Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane fired Liverpool to victory over West Brom but a late defensive lapse cost them the chance to go top of the Premier League.
Having dominated proceedings from the first whistle at Anfield the Reds were unfortunate not to be further ahead when Gareth McAuley took advantage at a late corner and a 2-1 scoreline was not quite enough to topple Arsenal at the summit.
Yet there was much to love about the Reds here, not least in the first half when Coutinho dummied brilliantly to pave the way for Mane's 20th-minute opener and produced a neat turn and finish after his team-mate repaid the favour.
They could, and should, have won by a more handsome margin but one clean sheet in nine matches tells its own tale.
Liverpool made just one change to the side held by Manchester United on Monday, Adam Lallana back in place of England team-mate Daniel Sturridge.
Lallana was involved early, linking with Coutinho to feed Mane on the right.
There was a tangle of legs with Allan Nyom as the forward drove into the box but referee Neil Swarbrick allowed play to continue.
Liverpool seemingly picked Nyom out as the weak link, Lallana, Mane and Nathaniel Clyne repeatedly causing the left-back strife.
The opening goal was a free-flowing delight, the Reds building from the back when Coutinho's brilliant, instinctive dummy caught a handful of striped shirts off guard.
Emre Can strode into the space created by his team-mate's quick thinking before laying off for Roberto Firmino on the overlap.
Firmino's cross was measured, creeping just over Nyom's head and onto the boot of Mane who found the bottom corner on the volley.
The goal underlined the home side's dominance and seemed to rob Albion of belief in the process.
A second might have arrived when Clyne's whipped cross just evaded Can's outstretched leg, but Anfield was celebrating again in the 35th minute.
Baggies skipper Darren Fletcher failed to get Ben Foster's sliced clearance under control and Mane was on to the mistake in an instant.
He picked out Coutinho with a quick pass but there was still plenty to do, McAuley and Craig Dawson suckered by a feint and Foster beaten for pace at his near post.
Liverpool's passing and movement were just as smooth after the break, with West Brom at times chasing shadows as the ball zipped around their final third.
Chris Brunt came on for Claudio Yacob at half-time, with James Morrison replacing Matt Phillips six minutes later, but Tony Pulis' changes felt little more than cosmetic.
Morrison had his pocket picked by Coutinho shortly after coming on, leading to another red surge that would have ended in a goal had McAuley not blocked Firmino's shot.
Foster also played his part in keeping things respectable, pulling off a wonderful save to keep out Dejan Lovren's header from a corner.
West Brom were over-run but resolute, Jonas Olsson the latest to prevent a certain goal when he dived bravely to smother Can's effort from 12 yards. Coutinho, once again, had played the role of creator.
Nacer Chadli, with four goals in his last four games, had a rare sight of Loris Karius' goal in the 70th minute, a wayward effort that was nevertheless greeted warmly by the away end.
That was nothing compared to the roar that greeted McAuley when the Northern Ireland international lashed home in the 82nd minute after reacting quickest to a ricochet in the area.
Liverpool's composure was lost as a result but they would have reopened their two-goal lead had Foster not made another fine block from Firmino.