LIVERPOOL: Jurgen Klopp has been at pains to point out that he will not be able to transform Liverpool’s fortunes instantly and the Reds boss faces his next challenge on Sunday when West Bromwich Albion aim to become the latest visiting side to thrive at Anfield.
Emphatic recent away wins at Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton had some of Liverpool’s more optimistic supporters dreaming not only of Champions League qualification, but of a title challenge this season.
Those expectations will have been tempered by a poor showing in a 2-0 defeat at Newcastle last Sunday — only the second time that Liverpool had been beaten since Klopp took charge just over two months ago.
That defeat left Liverpool in eighth in the Premier League going into this weekend’s program, only two places higher than they were when Brendan Rodgers was sacked on October 4.
Sunday’s home match against Albion is unlikely to be straightforward either as Liverpool’s best displays under Klopp have come away from Anfield.
On home turf, they have looked edgy and nervous for much of the season — winning only three times in the league — and there was little change in their last outing when a James Milner penalty was needed to overcome a limited Swansea side.
The good news for Klopp is that Philippe Coutinho, instrumental in the 4-1 victory at Manchester City three weeks ago, is ready to make his first start since then after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Coutinho made his comeback as a substitute as Liverpool secured top spot in their Europa League group with a 0-0 draw against Sion on Thursday, a match which also saw captain Jordan Henderson make his first start since August.
Henderson has taken time to regain full fitness after suffering two separate foot injuries this season, and was pleased with his workout on a semi-frozen pitch in Switzerland.
“It was nice to play 75 minutes,” Henderson said. “It was a tough game in tough conditions. My fitness was tested on the pitch and I had no problem.
“I’ve just got to keep managing it. But it’s been fine so far.”
The returns of Coutinho and Henderson will be of benefit to Liverpool, who are once again set to be without their injury-prone striker Daniel Sturridge.
England international Sturridge suffered the latest in a long line of setbacks when he picked up a hamstring injury during his appearance as a substitute at Newcastle.
Klopp has indicated that the striker’s new injury is not as serious as his previous problems, but it means that Christian Benteke is likely to lead the attack, despite a poor individual performance at St James’ Park.
The man who was effectively forced out of Anfield by Benteke’s arrival, Rickie Lambert, will return to his home-town club as a West Brom player for the first time since leaving last summer.
Yet having made the tough decision to leave Merseyside after just one season, Lambert has swapped Liverpool’s substitutes’ bench for Albion’s.
He has started just three Premier League games after falling below Salomon Rondon in the pecking order, but will hope the hamstring injury that has ruled out Stephane Sessegnon this weekend might open up a starting berth.
“He is knocking on my door all the time,” Albion manager Tony Pulis said.
“He wants to play. But it’s about trying to find the right formation and shape for the team and trying to get the balance right.
“We didn’t think we would get Salomon right up to the last minute in the summer but Salomon was a real coup for us.
“Rickie has been smashing. He’s a good pro who is great around the place. The players love him, to be honest.
“He is a good old-fashioned, professional player who gets on with his job.”