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    Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion Match Preview

    Liverpool are set to welcome back Philippe Coutinho for the visit of West Brom on Sunday after the Brazilian made his return to the side as a substitute in midweek. The 23-year-old has missed the past three weeks with a hamstring injury but came on to play the last half-hour in Thursday's 0-0 draw against Sion in the Europa League. It is a major boost for Jurgen Klopp's team, who struggled in both league matches in his absence and must also manage without Daniel Sturridge until the new year.

    Having been fortunate to beat Swansea a fortnight ago, courtesy of a dubious James Milner penalty, Liverpool lost to Newcastle last Sunday and lacked the creativity that Coutinho has brought to the team since his return to form under the management of Jurgen Klopp. Roberto Firmino struggled to replicate the performances in Coutinho's absence that he had produced in the "false 9" position against Chelsea and Manchester City, when his Brazilian countryman had played just behind him. Christian Benteke, Firmino and Coutinho have only featured twice in the same starting XI this season, both under Brendan Rodgers, so it will be interesting to see who Jurgen Klopp opts to leave out of the side on Sunday.

    A surprise omission against Newcastle was Adam Lallana, who has thrived in his role on the left of a three-pronged attacking midfield, but was replaced in that position by James Milner. With Jordon Ibe struggling with illness ahead of the visit of West Brom, it may be the right time to revive the Milner, Coutinho and Lallana combination and choose between Benteke and Firmino to play slightly ahead of the three. Jordan Henderson is also in contention for a first league start since August after returning from a metatarsal injury to play 77 minutes in midweek, while Emre Can should return from his one-match suspension to replace Joe Allen in the deep-lying midfield role.

    Liverpool were dealt a blow after Sunday's defeat with the news that Daniel Sturridge is likely to be out for several weeks with a hamstring injury. The England striker had only made three appearances, two as a substitute, since returning from seven weeks out with a knee injury and has already missed 21 of the club's last 79 matches. Ahead of the match, Klopp has ruled out making any additions to his strikeforce in the January transfer window, perhaps an indication that he still has faith in Divock Origi, who is likely to be on the bench on Sunday.

    Sunday's visitors West Brom should pose another stern test for The Reds on Sunday. The Baggies have been in excellent form in the past month, beating Arsenal three weeks ago and recording respectable draws subsequently against West Ham and Tottenham. Tony Pulis' teams are famous for keeping clean sheets and although they haven't managed to do so in the last five games, they recorded six shutouts in the club's first 10 league matches this season. The former Stoke manager's blueprint has always been to build from the back and by having a settled back-four that almost picks itself, it has enabled them to form the defensive cohesion to become difficult to beat.

    Pulis is currently able to call upon arguably the strongest substitutes benches in the club's history, such is the strength of his squad. Saido Berahino has been joined on the bench in recent games by Callum McManaman, Ricky Lambert, Anders Lindegaard and James Chester. All four players have all been signed by Pulis since his appointment in January, with Arsenal loanee Serge Gnabry struggling to even make the matchday squad. Victor Anichebe has not featured in the league since a appearance as a substitute on the opening day of the season, while Premier League stalwart Craig Gardner has not started a league game for three months.

    Liverpool Key Players

    If the home side are to take all three points, it will be vital that Philippe Coutinho produces the kind of form he showed at the beginning of the season and in the weeks before he sustained his injury. No other player in the Liverpool team is as influential as the Brazilian magician. When matches are tight, he is the player most capable of producing the one piece of magic that turns a draw into a victory. On the occasions when Liverpool are allowed time and space to play, Coutinho is capable of producing the devastating form he displayed at the Etihad Stadium, where Manchester City could not cope with his pace, skill, passing and shooting ability.

    Another key player for Liverpool, albeit more on an unsung hero, is Emre Can. The German midfielder was outstanding against Swansea, where he played in a slightly deeper role in the absence of Lucas Leiva and produced a "Man of the Match" display. Can touched the ball 99 times that day, was impeccable in possession and influential in starting Liverpool attacks by pressing the opposition into losing the ball. He was badly missed a week ago in the 2-0 defeat against Newcastle, where Liverpool lost the battle in the centre of midfield, so his return this weekend will give his side a much-needed boost.

    West Bromich Albion Key Players

    The Baggies' most valuable asset, Saido Berahino, has been left out of the starting XI for the past four matches, fuelling speculation that he will be offloaded in the January transfer window. In his place, Salomon Rondon has impressed as a out-and-out centre-forward, although the club will be looking for a higher goal-return for the £12million they paid Zenit St Petersburg for his services. Despite only scoring three times for his new club, he has managed to keep the faith of his manager despite the club's vast array of attacking options. The Venezuelan scored 18 goals for club and country last season, proving that he possesses the quality to be a success in the Premier League and there will be no better time to prove it than against Liverpool.

    Claudio Jacob plays an important role in front of the West Brom back-four, putting out fires in the centre of the park and adding a layer of protection to his defenders. The Argentine will have a vital part to play on Sunday in not only stopping the supply to the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana but by allowing them as little time and space on the ball as possible. If Jacob and his teammate manage to nullify the threat from the creative Liverpool midfielders, as Newcastle did so successfully a week ago, then the visitors will be very difficult to beat on Sunday.

    Head To Head

    West Brom used to possess a woeful record against Liverpool, winning just four and drawing 14 of the 49 matches they played between September 1967 and August 2010. This 49-match sequence culminated in a run of 13 consecutive defeats for the Baggies and 20 matches without a win. They have, however, fared much better in the subsequent five years, winning four and drawing two of the past 10 encounters. When the two sides met at Anfield in October 2014, under the reign of Alan Irvine as West Brom Head Coach, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson scored in a 2-1 victory for The Reds at Anfield, with Saido Berahino responding for the visitors. The clubs last met in April 2015, three months after Tony Pulis' arrival, when they played out a 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns.

    Team News

    Philippe Coutinho is set the return to the Liverpool team for the first time in the Premier League since picking up a hamstring injury against Manchester City three weeks ago. Daniel Sturridge has been ruled out for several weeks, also with a hamstring injury, while Jordon Ibe is a slight doubt after suffering with illness. Mamadou Sakho has resumed full training and is a week away from making his first-team return from a knee injury, while Jon Flanagan is set to return to full training on Tuesday after missing over 18 months with a knee injury. For West Brom, Stephane Sessegnon is ruled out with a hamstring injury, sustained against Tottenham last weekend, but Claudio Yacob returns from a one-match ban. Ben Foster is not expected to make his return from a knee injury until the new year.

    Score Prediction

    Liverpool 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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