Liverpool stunk the joint out in a 3-2 loss to West Brom in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The Guardians Andy Hunter wrote:” VAR vied for the limelight but West Bromwich Albion would not be denied. “Nice one Cyrille,” sang the away section as they savoured an outstanding victory and tribute to their late hero Regis. His old club excelled while Liverpool faltered badly, exiting the FA Cup at the fourth-round stage for the third season running under Jürgen Klopp.
“We had big aims in this competition and we wanted to show that,” said the Liverpool manager, who lamented another poor defensive display that invited Jay Rodriguez to score twice and Craig Dawson to force Joël Matip into conceding an own goal before half-time.
Alan Pardew’s complaint centred on the referee, Craig Pawson, and his over-use of VAR. The West Brom manager could have none over a performance that deservedly inflicted a second defeat of the week on Liverpool by a team in the bottom two of the Premier League.
Pawson used VAR to disallow a Dawson header at 2-1, to award Liverpool a penalty that was missed by Roberto Firmino and to allow Albion’s third goal to stand. All three were correct calls but VAR introduced both accuracy and farce at Anfield.
The referee appeared to be guided by Mohamed Salah in awarding the spot-kick, taking three minutes and 53 seconds to do so. He also called for several unnecessary reviews that brought an absorbing and flowing Cup tie to a standstill and left players from both teams openly mocking its use. The introduction of VAR for addressing “clear and obvious” errors was exposed to ridicule here.
“It’s hard to know where to start,” said Pardew on the video reviews, echoing the thoughts of many at Anfield. “I don’t think that is what we want to see going forward. There was no communication from the referee to us. We didn’t know why the game was being stopped. They reversed the Dawson goal which would never have been disallowed in a league game. Are we going to start taking goals away from the entertainment for slight margins?
“The biggest worry for me was the four minutes for the Salah penalty decision. You are going from a high-tempo workrate to nothing and then we had a hamstring injury [to Kieran Gibbs] just after that. As a coach should I have got our players to keep warmed-up in that situation? I don’t know. It was bizarre.
The real shame was how VAR intruded on the acclaim Albion merited for attacking Liverpool in the first half, dominating central midfield and defending stoutly in the second as the hosts pressed in vain for a recovery. Klopp sportingly sought out Dawson and Jonny Evans on the final whistle, shaking the hands of two defenders who repelled his team expertly even while carrying injury, with all three substitutes deployed.
Defeat confines Klopp’s hopes of silverware this season to the Champions League. It also demonstrated that his side’s frailties cannot be wiped away simply by spending £75m on Virgil van Dijk. He was one of several Liverpool players to endure an off-night, one that could not have been foreseen when Firmino exquisitely chipped them into an early lead. A rare mistake by Evans enabled Salah to pounce on a Chris Brunt back pass that the defender wrongly believed to be bound for Ben Foster. The Albion goalkeeper, who enjoyed a fine Saturday night’s work, saved from the Egypt international but Firmino sent the rebound back over both Evans and Foster with an instinctive touch of class.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, their midfield and defence again failed to match the quality of their front three. 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 Rodriguez reaped the benefits.
The visitors were level within a minute when Barry dispossessed Georginio Wijnaldum and Brunt threaded a first-time pass into Rodriguez. The Albion forward ghosted away from Emre Can and Van Dijk before sending an unstoppable shot into Simon Mignolet’s top corner. Albion then edged ahead thanks to a superb flowing attack orchestrated by Krychowiak, who beat Can easily and released Gibbs down the left.
The full-back’s low centre dissected the Liverpool defence and Rodriguez was there again to score from close range as the recalled Alberto Moreno dawdled. VAR then took centre stage, coming into play to disallow Dawson’s header from a Brunt corner and then to hand Liverpool a penalty when Jake Livermore pulled down Salah. The referee viewed the incident himself on the touchline monitor before Firmino swept his spot-kick against the bar.
More poor defending from Liverpool, after Albion had lost Gibbs and Hal Robson-Kanu to injury in quick succession, gave the visitors the cushion of a third. Krychowiak hooked the ball over a suspect offside trap to Dawson and his shot evaded Mignolet before taking a final touch off Matip.
Liverpool only roused after a triple substitution by Klopp in the second half. Salah offered Anfield hope when he scored from close range from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross, that struck Firmino, but there was no reprieve. “Albion defended with big hearts,” said Klopp. “I don’t like to say it but they deserved it.”