The ball leaves Roberto Firmino’s left boot. The wait is agonising, as it bounces from one post to the other. The Kop holds its breath in anticipation.
And then, the roar. After hitting both uprights of Lee Grant’s goal, the ball crosses the line and Liverpool have a 2-1 lead over Stoke City, shortly before half-time of the Reds’ home Premier League clash with the Staffordshire side on December 27, 2016.
That game, eventually won 4-1 by Jürgen Klopp’s side, is the most recent competitive fixture that the Reds have played on that day. English footballing tradition usually sees most sides take to the pitch on Boxing Day.
You have to go back another 30 years to find another example of a Liverpool game on December 27 – a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in 1986 – and even further back to find a time when the Reds lost on that day, such has been the team’s success when they have been scheduled to avoid the usual Boxing Day tradition.
Considering the unpredictability of 2020, it feels perfectly normal that this year marks another where the Reds will have an extra day to digest their Christmas dinners and prepare for a Premier League fixture. They will face West Bromwich Albion on December 27.
Coincidentally, the Baggies were also Liverpool’s opponents the last time they lost on December 27, almost half-a-century ago in 1971. A team managed by Bill Shankly and featuring the likes of Ray Clemence, Emlyn Hughes, Kevin Keegan and Steve Heighway could not breach the opposition rearguard, as West Brom secured a 1-0 win at The Hawthorns.
Of course, the situation has changed greatly in the decades which have passed since. This win over Liverpool was one of Don Howe’s finest moments as Baggies boss, but they would be relegated to the Second Division just 18 months later and, despite a short-lived renaissance at the end of the decade, entered a period of decline which saw them labelled a “yo-yo” club as they failed to nail down a run of consistent seasons in the English top-flight.
Liverpool’s glory years came in the late ’70s and ’80s, and have begun to reappear once again now under Klopp. Success in the Champions League and Premier League under the German has finally given supporters happier memories after enduring the indignity of the club’s fortunes just a decade ago.
The Reds gear up for this clash with West Brom as current English champions, while this is the Baggies’ first season back in the top-flight. The Merseysiders are hungry for more success, while their opponents this Sunday are simply hopeful of ensuring they take part in back-to-back Premier League campaigns.Embed from Getty Images
But let that fool no-one. While West Brom have had a tough time of it so far, they have proven that they are capable of hurting teams when they are at it. The 3-0 lead they raced into against Chelsea in September was enough of a warning for anyone, as was an admirable draw at Manchester City earlier this month – even if it did cost Slaven Bilić his job.
So while Liverpool’s stock is high, and while they haven’t lost any of their last eight matches played on this unusual date for a Premier League fixture, they must be wary of the challenge that the Baggies pose – especially now that gravy-drinking, relegation-escaping expert Sam Allardyce is at the helm.
West Brom have already put the Reds to the sword on December 27 once before – and footballing history has a funny knack of repeating itself.
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