Ibe gives Klopp reminder as Albion denied
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