The meeting of West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at the Hawthorns on Saturday is one of the most intriguing of the Premier League weekend as two managers new to their posts do battle, both of whom in their own way represent something of a gamble.
For different reasons, the Baggies and the Reds were forced to change managers over the summer – West Brom because Roy Hodgson was lured to England, Liverpool because Kenny Dalglish proved a successful second coming was just a pipedream – and in Steve Clarke and Brendan Rodgers, both clubs have taken a calculated wager.
In West Brom’s case, they have decided it is time for Clarke to sink or swim. For so long a respected and highly thought of number two, the former Chelsea assistant has served his apprenticeship and he now has a crack at the top level management he feels he deserves and his appointment is one of the most interesting of the summer.
His downbeat persona does little to inspire confidence, which is perhaps why so many are expecting him to fail, and following in the footsteps of the immeasurably popular Hodgson at the Hawthorns is no easy task, especially when Clarke is taking over a club that has bounced between the divisions with regularity over the last decade. And with a history of good number twos failing to make the grade when given the top job, Clarke’s progress will be intriguing to measure.
The Merseysiders have already had two competitive games in the Europa League, not to mention pre-season outings against Roma, Tottenham and Bayer Leverkusen, and in that last match in particular, the Reds looked sharp and ready.
As for Liverpool, Rodgers represents a clean break from the burden of history and a fresh start for owners who have enjoyed the cautious support of fans for 18 months but now need to start producing results on and off the pitch. The off-field debates can wait for another day, but on the pitch, John W. Henry seems to have appointed a man already in tune with what is required and he has been mightily impressive all summer.
Of course, Rodgers comes with no guarantees despite his sterling work with Swansea, with memories of his torrid time at Reading – where he last just six months – still at the back of Reds fans’ minds. But the Northern Irishman hasn’t put a foot wrong so far, speaking articulately and passionately and laying down a philosophy for the Anfield faithful, who are desperate to feel kinship with their leader, to follow.
Like Fenway Sports Group, Rodgers will need time, patience and understanding as he undertakes a massive job where expectations are not aligned with financial reality, but the early signs are encouraging and as the two new boys take to the dugout for their first taste of league action, it is Rodgers who should come out all smiles as Clarke faces his former club.
Liverpool are 17/20 to get the three points, with West Brom 31/10 and the draw at 5/2 and there are enough practical reasons to think the Reds will be celebrating an opening-day win.
It may be an obvious conclusion, but Liverpool have better players. The Reds boast little depth to their squad, which will render them unable to challenge for top-four berth over the course of nine months, but the eleven who will start on Saturday still possess enough quality to cause the Baggies problems at home, where they lost ten times last year.
Liverpool seem more likely to sprint out of the starting blocks, too. The Merseysiders have already had two competitive games in the Europa League, not to mention pre-season outings against Roma, Tottenham and Bayer Leverkusen, and in that last match in particular, the Reds looked sharp and ready.
They also have a great record at the Hawthorns, winning nine of their last ten trips by an aggregate score of 28-3, and can make that a perfect ten. Odds-on aways aren’t my thing, so instead take the 29/20 that Liverpool win a game featuring under 3.5 goals (worth £49 to anyone backing it with their free £20 bet upon registering with bwin).
Liverpool matches averaged fewer goals per game than any other team last season (2.29) and with this sure to be cagey as the new bosses feel their way in, there might not be too many goals about.
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