VAR intruded on West Bromwich Albion’s endeavour at Anfield but could not derail their triumph. Alan Pardew’s side produced a clinical away display to shock Liverpool and send Jürgen Klopp’s men out of the FA Cup at the fourth-round stage for a second season running.
It was a night dominated by referee Craig Pawson’s over-use of VAR but also Albion’s outstanding display, particularly in the first half when they stunned Liverpool with three goals. For Klopp, it was a second consecutive worrying defeat that leaves his designs on silverware resting on the Champions League.
Anfield was treated to an absorbing, dramatic Cup tie that flowed relentlessly until VAR slowed it to a farce. Both managers opted for strong lineups, Klopp taking no chances after his over-rotating cost Liverpool in last season’s fourth round against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and both sides brimmed with attacking intent. Three outstanding goals inside the opening 11 minutes were the reward. There would have been a fourth after 20 minutes but for the review system coming to Liverpool’s rescue.
The hosts were on the front foot from the first whistle and made an early breakthrough. It stemmed from a poor mistake in the Albion defence but the execution was a thing of beauty. The coveted Jonny Evans was culpable when he allowed Chris Brunt’s back pass to run through to his goalkeeper, Ben Foster, who had not advanced. Mohamed Salah seized on the error and, though Foster blocked his shot, the rebound fell to Roberto Firmino who clipped a glorious finish over Evans and the stranded keeper and in. The finish oozed the class of the Brazilian’s recent goal here against Manchester City.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, their midfield and defence failed to equal the quality of their front three. Yet again. Albion’s central midfield pairing of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Gareth Barry, still superior to any of the midfielders he left behind at Everton, dominated their counterparts and Jay Rodriguez reaped the benefits.
The visitors were level just over a minute later when Barry dispossessed Georginio Wijnaldum and Brunt threaded a first-time pass into the Albion forward. Rodriguez ghosted away from Emre Can and Virgil van Dijk before sending an unstoppable shot into Simon Mignolet’s top corner. The power and precision of the drive would have found favour with the late Cyrille Regis, who had been given a rousing ovation by both sets of supporters.
Albion then edged ahead thanks to a superb flowing attack orchestrated by Krychowiak, who beat Can easily and released Kieran Gibbs down the left. The full-back’s low centre dissected the Liverpool defence and Rodriguez was there again to convert from close range as the recalled Alberto Moreno dawdled.
Pardew’s players thought they had made it three when Craig Dawson towered over Firmino to head in Brunt’s corner from close range. Referee Pawson called for VAR, however, and after a lengthy delay the goal was disallowed due to a marginal offside against Barry. VAR penalised Albion a second time moments later when Salah went down under a pull from Jake Livermore inside the area. Pawson missed the incident but appeared to be alerted to a possible foul by Salah. After another VAR call, this time lasting three minutes and 53 seconds and involving the referee looking at the monitor himself, a penalty was awarded, to the fury of the visitors. Firmino stepped up but only succeeded in placing his spot-kick against the crossbar.
The miss appeared a rare reprieve for Albion who then lost Gibbs and Hal Robson-Kanu to injury, hamstring and knee respectively, within the space of two minutes. Remarkably, however, they did add a third before the interval and this time even VAR could not deny them. It was another weak and simple goal for Liverpool to concede as Krychowiak broke their offside trap with a hooked ball over the top to Dawson. The defender was left in acres of space on the right and his shot sailed beyond Mignolet and into the far corner via a final touch off Joël Matip. Once again Pawson wanted to review the incident. After a chat with assistant Andre Marriner the goal was given and Liverpool were in serious trouble.
VAR helped Pawson call every major decision correctly but its over-use was underlined when he called for a review of an Evans’ header that beat Mignolet from close range. At least five Albion players including Evans were offside when Krychowiak’s shot bounced into the Liverpool area and Pawson’s assistant signalled as much. But more time was wasted with an unnecessary review.
Liverpool’s second-half response was ineffective. Too many players were below-par, from Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold in defence to Can and Wijnaldum in midfield, and Klopp made his feelings clear with a triple substitution after 65 minutes. The decision to withdraw Sadio Mané for a central midfielder, the fit-again Jordan Henderson, did not go down well on the Kop. The changes instigated much-needed improvement.
Substitutes James Milner and Danny Ings were both denied by good saves from Foster before Salah brought hope to Anfield when he converted from close range after Alexander-Arnold’s cross deflected into his path.
SOURCE: BBC Sports/The Guardian UK/Sky Sports
Categories: FA Cup