Football Features

“I didn’t have much to do” – Anfield specialist Allardyce engineers West Brom draw at Liverpool

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:01, 27 December 2020

Liverpool ended their Premier League home campaign in 2020 by snatching a 1-1 draw from the jaws of victory against struggling West Brom.

Sam Allardyce’s visitors managed to survive an opening salvo that saw Sadio Mane bag his first Anfield goal since September, which looked to have decided the contest. Jurgen Klopp’s defending champions were, in truth, playing the game at their own leisurely pace. But that lack of ruthlessness came back to bite them when Semi Ajayi headed in from a corner late on.

Naturally, there were individual winners and losers. Here are three of each from this encounter.

Winner: Sadio Mane

You can hardly blame any goal-hungry forward of being upset when subbed knowing more goals were to be had. That was Sadio Mane last weekend at Crystal Palace; having started at Selhurst Park, and after scoring their second in a 7-0 win, his manager Klopp decided 57 minutes was enough time for the Senegalese international, who didn’t exactly agree with the decision. His replacement Mohamed Salah would subsequently grab a brace. Normally both are neck-and-neck in the Premier League scorers chart, but there’s a sizable gap between them.

Heading into today’s game Salah held a eight-goal advantage through bagging 13 goals, with Mane yet to truly express his irresistible goal-getting talents this season so far. His effort against the Eagles ended a eight-game drought and this afternoon’s opener — where he wonderfully collected a Joel Matip forward pass before volleying past Sam Johnstone — was Mane’s first at Anfield since netting against Arsenal (3-1) in September and his 69th for the club overall, subsequently matching Luis Suarez’s league total.

Loser: Joel Matip

At first this may seem off, given his involvement in Liverpool’s opening goal through a lovely weighted pass for Mane, but coming off with 30 minutes left on the clock reaffirmed the concerns surrounding Matip, who has unfortunately received an ‘injury prone’ tag. Today’s game was his eighth league appearance of the campaign. He has started seven of those but completed the full 90 minutes just five times. The long-term absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez leaves him as Klopp’s most senior centre-back and now there’s a possibility the coach will not be able to count on him for the foreseeable future.

Rhys Williams, who previously faced Tottenham, needlessly gave away the corner that led to West Brom’s unfancied equaliser but should expect another run out when the champions visit Newcastle to see out the year.

Winner: Semi Ajayi

It only takes one second to score a goal and no one knows that better than Allardyce who understandably worked tirelessly on West Brom’s defensive shape and organisation coming into this game. Klopp, naturally, was preying on someone losing concentration for a split moment and that came when Semi Ajayi in the Baggies backline decided Roberto Firmino (and not Mane) was the one to keep an eye on.

This proved costly as by the time he picked up Liverpool’s No.10, he was slamming the ball home. Ajayi is made of sterner stuff though and previously played a pivotal role in the Baggies snatching a point at Manchester City, which proved to be Slaven Bilic’s final game in charge. With eight minutes remaining, he went forward following a fortuitous corner and nodded home to give the visitors an unlikeliest of points.

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Loser: Mohamed Salah

After that cameo at Selhurst Park you wouldn’t have expected Mohamed Salah to produce such a lethargic performance but here we are. Salah was unable to test Johnstone with his three off-target shots all game; not what you come to expect from the Egyptian king, but it’s a credit to West Brom’s rearguard he wasn’t afforded more. They also managed to avoid becoming Anfield’s latest newly-promoted victims, as fellow Leeds United found out on the opening weekend. Going into today’s showdown, Salah at Anfield had been directly involved in 15 goals in 10 Premier League matches against those who came up (nine goals and six assists). One must be worried for Fulham when they visit in early March.

Winner: Sam Allardyce

Any talk of relegation seems too early seeing as there’s 23 more gameweeks after this one, but even at this stage there’s a group slowly being cut off from the pack in the league table. Hence why the Baggies earlier this month turned to Sam Allardyce, who has become somewhat of a relegation-battling expert. His pristine record is under threat given where they currently stand, though five points adrift is not insurmountable and on today’s showing confidence is growing.

Hardly anyone gave them a chance of getting anything. That said, if there’s one place Allardyce tends to shine it’s Anfield. He remains the last visiting manager to leave with all three points, with Crystal Palace in 2017.

He’s now also avoided defeat in each of his four previous visits (impressively with four different clubs: West Brom, Everton, Crystal Palace and Sunderland).

There was a heart-in-mouth moment at the end, though, when Firmino forced their goalkeeper into producing a world-class save.

“It was a great save. To be honest, I didn’t have that much to do in the game,” said West Brom keeper Sam Johnstone, a former Manchester United youth player.

Loser: Karlan Grant

It turned out to be inconsequential at the end, but the moment Allardyce had waited for arrived with 17 minutes left to play. A ball punted upfield found its way to centre-forward Karlan Grant, who raced towards Alisson’s goal while leaving Williams in his wake. But the Liverpool shot-stopper was equal to him and pulled off a routine save which everyone naturally has come to expect from. Grant knew it was a big moment and was mulling over it when coming off for Charlie Austin as the game entered its final 10 minutes.