Neil Humphreys: Liverpool need reinforcements
Klopp really needs to go shopping in the summer
|(Roberto Firmino 45+1)|
Liverpool took a step closer to Champions League qualification last night, but creative consistency remains a long way away.
Aside from Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool's lack of artistry becomes increasingly apparent as fatigue takes hold.
A plucky performance just about earned a 1-0 victory at West Brom and Juergen Klopp deserves credit for lifting the Reds to third place with a side so short of invention in attack.
The victory was gritty, but the shopping list grows with each plodding fixture. Liverpool are relying on muscle memory and heavy industry to overcome lesser opponents.
Klopp's gegenpressing, so invigorating in the early stages of the season, has given way to a huffing and puffing, machine-like reliability.
It's a long way from being pretty. At times, the Hawthorns rivalled a mortuary for atmosphere, which was probably expected.
West Brom manager Tony Pulis, a pioneer in bus parking, had never previously lost a home game against Liverpool in the Premier League.
Besides, the Baggies had already reached their pre-season target of 40 points and recent performances had dipped, whereas the Reds had dropped 13 points to lesser sides since the turn of the year.
A classic was highly unlikely, though it probably didn't need to be quite this bad.
For 44 minutes and 40 seconds of the first half, nothing happened, making a mockery of those EPL marketers who repeat the tired line about the world's most exciting league.
This was mostly awful.
Apart from a scuffed Roberto Firmino chance, the game initially offered less movement and spectacle than a week-long feed of a giraffe giving birth.
At least the famous giraffe came up with an end product, the Reds remain a mercurial side in search of a reliable focal point.
Coutinho really needs support in the summer. He cannot shoulder the attacking responsibilities alone and was a peripheral figure last night.
The Baggies, clearly stung by recent criticism that the collective body was willing but the mind was on a beach in the Bahamas, at least played with a point to prove.
A nominal 4-3-3 was often a 7-3, with Claudio Yacob scampering after anything in a red shirt like a dog chasing its tail, and Pulis' defensive organisation deserves grudging respect, if not admiration.
Indeed, West Brom's fortitude made Liverpool's opener on the stroke of half-time all the more perplexing (and scarcely deserved).
James Milner's set-piece delivery from the right was rather rudimentary and the hosts had a couple of opportunities to clear. But Lucas Leiva looped a flick-on over the defence and a galloping Firmino nodded home from close range.
The Brazilian's neat finish was an unexpected, uplifting end to an otherwise interminable first half.
The second half offered greater entertainment - it would've been difficult to offer less - and Milner hoofed a volley over the bar and a smart headed finish from Divock Origi was ruled out for offside.
In stoppage time, with West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster joining his forwards, Reds substitute Albeto Moreno broke free on the counter-attack, ran the length of the field and somehow misplaced his shot wide of a gaping goal when it was easier to score; summarising a dire game in a single incident.
At the final whistle, Klopp hugged his staff. The sense of relief was palpable, Liverpool can be much better than this, but the tank is just about empty.
If the top four and Champions League qualification are achieved, then Klopp will earn every plaudit thrown his way.