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 By Dave Usher

Liverpool can't afford to rest starters, take 2017-18 bogey team West Brom lightly

West Brom are one of only four Premier League sides Mohamed Salah has yet to score against this season.
Mohamed Salah and Liverpool have had a tough time with bottom club West Brom this season.

One of the biggest mysteries of the season so far was how on earth West Bromwich Albion were able to win at Anfield and knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

It wasn't a smash and grab act, they didn't ride their luck and they fully deserved to be winners.

The West Midlanders have been the worst team in the Premier League by some distance, but on that January evening, they actually resembled a very good side and the 3-2 scoreline did not flatter them.

Nobody had given them much of a chance, especially as Liverpool were coming off a shocking 1-0 defeat at Swansea a few days earlier and were looking to bounce back, but they scored three times in the first half and also had another one chalked off on video evidence. Had it been a league game, that goal would have stood.

Jurgen Klopp often rotates his squad for the FA Cup, but he showed West Brom due respect by selecting a very strong lineup. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all started, but West Brom dealt with the threat and won the game. It remains the Reds' only home loss of the season to date.

It wasn't a fluke either, as a few weeks before, Albion had held the Reds to a goalless draw in the Premier League. In addition to Salah, Firmino and Mane, Philippe Coutinho also featured that night, but West Brom shut down the now defunct "Fab Four" with relative ease and will therefore feel confident that they can cause another upset this weekend.

Their success against Liverpool this season has been remarkable considering how desperately they've struggled against virtually everybody else.

After ending last season with just one win in their last 12 games, they surprisingly began this campaign by winning both of their opening fixtures. It provided false hope, as those two wins matched what they managed in the 32 games that followed. Remarkably, they've had as many managers this season as they've had league wins.

They're rooted to the foot of the table and in need of a miracle if they are to remain in the Premier League. Defeat on Saturday would see them officially relegated but there's no real pressure on them as realistically their fate was sealed several weeks ago.

Albion are now playing with complete freedom. The sacking of Alan Pardew and appointment of the popular Darren Moore as caretaker boss seems to have galvanised the players, and they were outstanding last weekend in a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

With Chelsea having won at Burnley on Thursday night to keep up the pressure on Liverpool and Spurs in the race to secure Champions League football for next season, the Reds cannot afford to take West Brom lightly.

Jurgen Klopp looks on at Anfield ahead of the Champions League match against Manchester City
Despite West Brom's standing, Jurgen Klopp can't afford to take his foot off the gas this weekend.

Ideally, Klopp might like to give some of his starters the day off to ensure they are fresh for Tuesday night's Champions League clash with Roma at Anfield, but the German insisted in his Friday news conference that he would be fielding a "very strong" side.

Klopp's philosophy when it comes to resting players is that it's always about the last game and not the next one. If a player is rested, it's because he's tired from the previous game and not because he's being held back for the next one. That's his stock answer whenever the subject of rotation is broached.

So far he has been true to his word. He made a number of changes for the recent Merseyside derby with Everton at Goodison, but that fixture came slap-bang in the middle of the two-legged UCL quarterfinal against Manchester City.

His players had produced a monumental effort to beat City 3-0 in the first leg and were understandably fatigued. Roberto Firmino had been taken off early in that game and looked shattered, while Salah was also substituted as a precaution after feeling a tightness in his groin. Understandably, both were left out of the starting lineup at Everton, but a number of other regular starters were included, in part because an injury crisis had severely restricted Klopp's rotation options.

Klopp does have some options this weekend but is unlikely to use them. The home game with Stoke City next week is the time to rotate, not this weekend. The Reds could really do with winning at the Hawthorns, so the lineup is unlikely to be much different to the one that comfortably beat Bournemouth 3-0 a week ago.

It might be wise to hold Dejan Lovren back after the Croatian limped out of that game late. The defender is back in training, but it would make sense to use Ragnar Klavan if there is any risk involved. Other than that, it will surely be full strength or very close to it for the Reds.

It's a game the Merseysiders should win, but there can be no room for complacency. West Brom already know they can beat Liverpool, they have nothing to lose, and their spirits will be lifted coming off that impressive win over Man United at Old Trafford.

While it's understandable for supporters to have the upcoming clash with Roma uppermost in their minds, Liverpool's players cannot look past the Baggies or there could be another upset on the cards.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.

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