With relegation confirmed, Albion welcome Liverpool to the Hawthorns on Sunday evening for what will hopefully be the last ever match at the venue with fans excluded.
While the Baggies having nothing left to play for, Jürgen Klopp’s team are still chasing a top four spot that they kept alive with their victory at Old Trafford on Thursday evening. They are four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand, so victory is vitally important for the Reds if they want to play in next season’s Champions League.
Liverpool are clear favourites of course, but Albion have proved tricky opposition in recent years. We all remember the way Klopp and his team celebrated their last minute equaliser at home to Albion in December 2015 and Liverpool have only won two of the last nine meetings will the Baggies and none of the last four. Most recently, of course, Sam Allardyce’s first point as Albion boss came at Anfield on Boxing Day.
According to reports, Big Sam has taken relegation hard and we await a decision on his future, one that will be made ahead of Albion’s final game of the season at Leeds United next weekend. There have been conflicting stories on whether he will use the last three games of the season to given an opportunity to the fringe players to prove their worth ahead of what will inevitably be a major squad overhaul this summer. Romaine Sawyers, Jake Livermore and Grady Diangana have had little opportunity since Allardyce made his January signings and it will be interesting to see whether any of then get any considerable game time in the coming week.
I’m sure those fringe players are hoping for a change in head coach this summer to give them a better chance of regaining a place in the side, but I would like to think that, whoever is in charge when the season kicks off in August, everyone will get a clean slate to prove their ability to play for a promotion-chasing side in the Championship.
The other big question is what will happen to Albion’s better players come the summer. Johnstone will almost certainly be sold given he has just one year left on his contract, while efforts may be made to re-sign Yokuşlu and Diagne although they may prove to be too expensive, or unwilling to take a step down.
Matheus Pereira is the subject of most speculation given his stellar performances in recent weeks including a wonderful goal at the Emirates last weekend. His contract situation is in the club’s favour and the decision must be made as to whether to cash in now, or keep him given that he is likely to add significantly to Albion’s chances of bouncing straight back to the Premier League.
While the player is under contract, it would be important to ensure that he is happy and up for the fight, but with Norwich City having done something similar with Buendia and Cantwell last summer, there is at least some evidence that it can work.
The counter argument is that a hefty sale price will help fund the players that Albion will need to sign to fill the gaps in their squad, particularly in midfield where the starting three are all loan players, and up top where Albion will be worryingly short of strikers assuming HRK’s contract is not renewed. Selling the Brazilian may make financial sense, but I’d love to see more of that magic in an Albion shirt next season.
While Liverpool’s stars will be the centre of attention at kick off on Sunday evening, particularly the stroppy Sadio Mané, I’d love it for Pereira to be the man on everyone’s lips at full time after he has dented the Reds’ top four hopes.