Last season’s home game with Liverpool was probably the only time we had the attention of the national media. And that was because of one man...Roy Hodgson. The media made this match out to be some sort of revenge mission for Hodgson, and to an extent the fans brought into that. The game against Liverpool witnessed, in my opinion, one of the best atmospheres of the season. The Liverpool fans were angry with Hodgson and lauded their hero Dalglish, with the Baggies more than willing to defend their head coach.
There was probably one man in amongst this atmosphere who really didn’t want revenge and that was Hodgson. Make no mistakes about it, I’m sure Hodgson was delighted to defeat his former club. Michael Appleton summed it up best at the time when he said “I’m sure Roy will enjoy watching Match of The Day tonight with a glass of red wine.” But Hodgson has been in the game long enough to not to hold grudges over these sorts of things. He conducted himself with his usual diplomacy and honour despite being asked some potentially hazardous questions.
Hodgson will treat this as just another game in Albion’s season, and quite rightly so. And it should be treated by fans as very much a winnable game. Despite the huge spending of Dalglish, Liverpool are still not on the same level as the real top teams; Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. They don’t have players who would strike fear into the opposition, apart from Luis Suarez who remains an injury doubt for the Reds. The signings they have made no doubt improve them, but not to the point where they are so much better than us that a win is treated as a foregone conclusion.
Should Suarez be fit, this is no doubt the biggest test of Albion’s new look defence thus far. Many felt they wouldn’t be able to cope with the pace of Aston Villa’s attackers in last week’s derby, but they did more than deal with them. Albion kept the Aston Villa attack at bay for most of the game. Suarez is a class above the likes of Darren Bent, and his class was obvious in last season’s game. His movement was outstanding and his link-up play brilliant, though his play acting and diving didn’t exactly endear him to the Albion fans or defence. But for all that, the rest of the side did little to assist him in particular his fellow big-money striker Andy Carroll.
He is one player who the Albion defence certainly enjoyed facing last year. When he was at Newcastle, it was Paul Scharner who kept Carroll quiet after a strong, but fair, challenge in the first minute. Then against Liverpool, it was Jonas Olsson’s turn to keep the big striker in his back pocket. Olsson knows how to get under the skin of players, and Carroll on a couple of occasions was lucky that the referee did not spot some sly kicks at Olsson, who merely responded with a flick of the Geordie’s ponytail. Albion will be hoping he is picked this year, as Liverpool then resort to a more long-ball tactic which in turn starves Suarez of the ball if Carroll fails to win the flicks and knock-downs that he was brought in for.
But enough about the opposition, let’s look at Albion. They have some injury concerns of their own, in particular Shane Long who was ruled out for 6 weeks following a disgusting challenge from Alan Hutton. Long had become a key component in the Albion side, chasing the ball and keeping defenders on their toes. But one player’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, with Somen Tchoyi and Simon Cox vying for a start alongside Peter Odemwingie up front. Odemwingie may enjoy the chance to be considered the main man once more, and at an open training session held by Albion on Tuesday, there did seem to be a link developing between the two.
I expect Zoltan Gera to remain on the bench, though he was very impressive in the training session. Jerome Thomas and Paul Scharner missed that session but will be fit for Saturday’s game, whilst Graham Dorrans and Gabriel Tamas will also be available for selection. Albion certainly have a chance in this game, though I would take a point.
The two sets of fans see this as a chance for redemption for their respective clubs and managers, but Roy will no doubt see it as just another game to tick off.
||Post your comment