Liverpool's set-piece training work pays off as victory at West Brom proves they can win ugly

West Brom 0 Liverpool 1: The Merseysiders had never won a Premier League game in eight previous visits to face a Pulis side yet Firmino’s goal made the difference

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When Liverpool spent the best part of a day this last week rehearsing set-pieces at a windy Melwood, Jürgen Klopp would have been hoping to lessen his team’s vulnerability to the aerial threat they were expecting to face at the Hawthorns this afternoon.

The Liverpool manager was surely not devising a strategy to unlock West Bromwich Albion’s defence. And yet, ironically, it was with a set-piece goal, assisted and scored by two Brazilians under six foot tall – Lucas Leiva and Robert Firmino respectively – that Liverpool found a way to end their Tony Pulis hoodoo and take another step closer to a return to the Champions League.

The Merseysiders had never won a Premier League game in eight previous visits to face a Pulis side yet Firmino’s first-half goal made the difference as Liverpool climbed back above Manchester City in third place in the table.Cut

After surviving one potential banana skin at Stoke City last weekend, this fixture had appeared another potential stumbling block against just the kind of opposition they tend to struggle against – a team a) below them in the table and b) strong on set-pieces. Yet they came away with their fifth win in seven matches and the excited celebrations at the final whistle underlined that Klopp and his players knew fully well its significance as they ended the weekend with a six-point advantage over fifth-placed Manchester United, albeit from two extra games.

The decisive moment came in first-half stoppage time when James Milner swung a free-kick over from the right flank, and Lucas flicked on to the far post where Firmino got in front of Craig Dawson to nod in. It was Liverpool’s first set-piece goal since January and certainly not the kind Albion would expect to give away. And yet they were guilty of switching off with Jonny Evans, out of step with his team-mates, playing Firmino onside.

For Liverpool it was the perfect tonic after a difficult first half when despite plenty of possession they failed to find their passing groove. They had begun with Philippe Coutinho and Firmino – last weekend’s goalscoring substitutes at Stoke – restored to the starting XI yet Albion’s approach – sit deep and hit Liverpool on the counter – meant the onus was on the visitors to make things happen yet they struggled to find any real flow.

They had a couple of half-chances, the first when a stray Claudio Yacob pass was pounced on by Coutinho who fed Firmino who angled a low shot past the far post from the left side of the box. Coutinho himself then dragged another effort wide at full stretch but it was Albion who had the clearer openings of a disappointing first period.

Albion had scored in only one of their preceding six matches but a home goal appeared imminent in the 23rd minute when Matt Phillips lofted a ball to the far post where Nacer Chadli was arriving unmarked. TV replays suggested there might have been a faint touch off Firmino before the ball landed but still Chadli should have done better than miss the ball entirely with his swipe at thin air.

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Firmino grabbed the only goal of the game just before the break (Getty)

Liverpool, after last week’s experiment with a back three in the Potteries, had begun with two centre-backs, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, shielded by Lucas yet Jake Livermore found a path through the middle of them with a fine pass into Robson-Kanu which the Wales striker chested into his stride only to drive his shot straight at Mignolet.

With their goal advantage Liverpool found a higher gear in a much livelier second period. Milner should have concluded a four-man move with a goal but volleyed over from Firmino’s back-post cross. Firmino was then adjudged marginally offside when teeing up Origi to head past Foster.

Albion have won only one league game since passing the 40-point mark but they put Liverpool under some pressure as the clock ticked down, notably when substitute Salomon Rondón turned Matip and released Phillips in the box but Simon Mignolet stuck out a leg and made a fine save.

However, Simon Mignolet stuck out a leg and made a fine save, just as he had at Stoke last week. Liverpool should have doubled their advantage in a frantic finish when, with goalkeeper Ben Foster stranded in the opposition half after going upfield a corner, substitute Alberto Moreno broke across the halfway line and let fly from 40 yards towards an unguarded goal, only to see his shot drift wide. Thankfully, for the Spaniard, Liverpool had already done enough.

Teams:

West Brom 4-5-1: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Brunt; Phillips, Livermore, Yacob (McClean 64), Fletcher, Chadli (Morrison 61); Robson-Kanu (Rondón 64).

Subs: Myhill, M Wilson, Nyom, Field.

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Wijnaldum, Lucas, Can; Firmino, Origi (Sturridge 82), Coutinho (Moreno 90).

Subs: Karius, Grujic, Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn, Gomez.

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