Just 18 months have passed since Brendan Rodgers began his Liverpool tenure in the Premier League with a 3-0 humbling by West Bromwich Albion. On Sunday, Liverpool return to the Hawthorns for the first time since that disappointing start, with the club in buoyant spirits. In midweek Liverpool’s hopes of gaining a much sought-after return ticket to the Champions League got a major boost with a scintillating 4-0 drubbing of local foes Everton before seeing their other leading rivals for a Champions League place, Tottenham, go down 5-1 to Manchester City. And Rodgers believes his team has made huge strides since his opening game, particularly in one key area.
“It's ironic that we play them this weekend,” he said, according to Liverpool’s official website. “Where we were at then, we had some talented players but we were very much an individual group. Over the course of 18 months, we've implemented a method to our play. We have become a team. We're understanding the game much better in terms of how we want to work and how we want to play.
“The important trait in any successful team is character, and we have got that in bucket-loads. It's something that makes me very happy, but we've still got a way to go. I've been delighted with the players -- their application and quality. As we saw the other night, it was an incredible performance in such a pressure game.”
Liverpool now have a three point advantage in the battle for a top-four berth and will be confident of preserving that edge with the firepower of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. Having initially struggled to accommodate the pair and still maintain some solidity with Steven Gerrard in the midfield, Rodgers appeared to get the right blend against Everton with the team happy to sit back while relying on the threat of Suarez and Sturridge, who alternated moving over to the left.
Both forwards will be hopeful of building on their impressive goal tallies this season against a West Brom side that looked anything but solid in a 4-3 defeat at the home of local rivals Aston Villa on Wednesday. The result means new manager Pepe Mel has overseen a return of one point from two games since taking charge to leave them outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone. With his side having raced into a 2-0 lead against Villa, Mel took little comfort from being involved in a thrilling encounter.
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“For me it wasn’t a good spectacle because at the start of the game, for 15 minutes, West Brom looked like they would win,” he said, according to the club’s official website. “Now we have no points.
“For me it is more important tomorrow we start work for the next match. I don’t think we need to change things just based on just one result. Despite the fact we got no points today, the attack performed very well. We just need to stop these errors."
Mel will be unable to call upon Nicolas Anelka due to a knee injury, while Stephane Sessegnon remains on the sidelines. Liverpool will have midfielder Joe Allen back in the squad, but will again be without Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique, Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 8.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.