Ibe gives Klopp re­minder as Al­bion de­nied

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Jim White at the Hawthorns

With in­ter­est wholly fo­cused on Wed­nes­day’s Europa League fi­nal, Jür­gen Klopp had said that no­body was in­ter­ested in this fix­ture yes­ter­day. In­clud­ing, if the Liver­pool teamsheet was in­dica­tive, the man­ager. He made 11 changes from his last game, a line-up fea­tur­ing no one likely to start in Basel.

“I know about play­ing fi­nals,” he said. “I brought the best line-up for this game.” The fact was, while the West Bromwich team might have had eyes on the beach (they had lost their last three home games, fail­ing to score in any of them), this Liver­pool side were play­ing for the bench.

Yet it was Al­bion who be­gan here with real pur­pose, scor­ing a de­light­ful goal on 13 min­utes. Joe Allen gave the ball away with a loose pass and Jonathan Leko picked it up and ran di­rectly at the goal, leav­ing four de­fend­ers in his wash. He pushed the ball out to Salomón Rondón, who fired un­der Adam Bog­dan.

A re­ally nice goal, was how Klopp de­scribed it. He was right. In his third Premier League start, Leko, a 17-year-old acad­emy grad­u­ate, had pro­vided a spark of ex­cite­ment to a lack­lus­tre Hawthorns sea­son. He looked, un­til he was given a stand­ing ova­tion on his sub­sti­tu­tion in the sec­ond half, a real prospect. Con­fi­dent, strong and am­bi­tious, with ex­cel­lent con­trol, he was keen to run at de­fend­ers at any op­por­tu­nity.

Nine min­utes af­ter his in­ter­ven­tion, how­ever, Liver­pool sug­gested that any­thing Al­bion could do, they could do bet­ter. Jor­don Ibe took the ball from Jon Flana­gan in his own half by the right touch­line. As Jonny Evans at­tempted to in­ter­cept, Ibe left him floun­der­ing on the turf. He turned and gal­loped into the space va­cated by the Al­bion de­fender, cut­ting inside and across the penalty area to shoot past Ben Fos­ter. It was the 20-year-old’s first Premier League goal and a ter­rific one.

Such riches, though, could not be repli­cated. Not that there was a short­age of op­por­tu­nity. Im­me­di­ately af­ter half-time, Rondón met Craig Gard­ner’s free-kick with a deft header that beat Bog­dan but hit the far post.

Then, af­ter an­other ex­cel­lent bit of jink­ing foot­work by Leko, Rondón got his head to Craig Daw­son’s cross, but the ball spun wide. On 65 min­utes, the Al­bion cen­tre for­ward com­pleted a hat-trick of missed chances when, again ar­riv­ing un­no­ticed at the far post as a cor­ner drifted his way, he mis-hit his first ef­fort, then re­cov­ered his foot­ing to fire again, only for Bog­dan to save.

From there, the main in­ter­est came in the pro­ces­sion of sub­sti­tutes. First out for Liver­pool was Jor­dan Hen­der­son, who gave a hint to Roy Hodg­son that he may be fit for the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship fi­nals. Danny Ings, too, made a wel­come re­turn, while Tony Pulis, en­cour­aged by Leko’s dis­play, sent on two more acad­emy re­cruits, Sam Field and Tyler Roberts.

As Klopp looks for­ward to Wed­nes­day, Pulis, the West Brom man­ager, ap­pears to be cast­ing his eye far­ther ahead.

“Next sea­son we’ll be the only west Mid­lands club in the top di­vi­sion,” he grinned. “That will do for me.”

Ris­ing star: Jor­don Ibe shoots home for his first goal in the Premier League

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