West Brom 1 Liverpool 2
It may have been ultimately unsuccessful, but Albion’s performance against Liverpool showed the value of true competitive integrity, something that the European Super League would have destroyed and something that is still in danger in the Premier League and European football as a whole.
Although already relegated, Albion went toe-to-toe with last season’s Premier League champions and were incredibly unlucky to not take at least a point, if not all three. That the Baggies were able to compete at that level is a product of the competitive bargaining agreement for TV rights that the Premier League remains the only major European league in adopting. And while it was a body blow for Albion fans, Alisson’s dramatic winner was one of the moments of the season in the Premier League, and those moments are why we watch football.
And while true competition does exist in England’s top flight, the gap to the second tier is continuing to grow. This season could see all three relegated sides from last season promoted back to the Premier League straight away should Bournemouth win through the play-offs, and even with a summer of uncertainty approaching, Albion will be one of the favourites for next season’s Championship title.
Parachute payments make the second tier an uneven contest and have been instrumental in the Baggies maintaining their record of not finishing lower than fourth in the Championship for the last twenty years. But, coupled with the potential rewards of promotion, they have been equally instrumental in a succession of owners pushing their clubs to the brink of financial ruin in the gamble to reach the promised land, with Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County the latest examples.
While we have seen the likes of Bournemouth, Southampton and Brighton come from the third tier to come close to establishing themselves in the top flight in recent years, I do wonder whether this will be possible in the future given the financial sustainability rules in the Championship and the paucity of broadcasting revenues outside of the top flight. It will certainly not get any easier without some significant changes.
As for the game itself, Albion can count themselves incredibly unlucky to come away from that match without a point. Matt Phillips’ position in front of the goalkeeper that caused Kyle Bartley’s “goal” to be disallowed had no bearing on Alisson’s ability to prevent the goal, but the drive for “consistency” seems to mean that if a player is in the ‘keeper’s eye line in an offside position, he will be deemed offside.
Meanwhile, the decision by Mike Dean in the build up to Liverpool’s equaliser to award a free kick after he found himself between Thiago and the ball was bizarre. I’m not sure that the game should even have been stopped given that only if the ball strikes the referee should he restart with a drop ball, I thought that if a player was obstructed, the referee is deemed part of the field of play.
However, I don’t buy the suggestions I have seen from some Albion fans that Deane was somehow biased towards Liverpool – I actually thought he had a decent game other than that one incident and I still think he is one of the better Premier League referees, not a popular view I realise.
Allardyce’s surprise selection of Hal Robson-Kanu certainly paid off with his delightful finish, but Grady Diangana didn’t do much to suggest that Big Sam was wrong to have sidelined him recently. I wouldn’t write him off just yet, however, as it wasn’t the easiest game for him to come in for. It will be interesting to see what the team looks like on Wednesday.
Who know whether we will know more about Allardyce’s future by then, but maybe he is waiting to see what sort of reaction he gets from the 6,000 fans who will be there. I can’t wait!