The former-first team coach had a hot start to his managerial reign at West Brom--including a 3-0 opening day win over Liverpool--and ahead of the reverse fixture he's been impressed with the progress at his old club.
One of the more frustrating aspects of this season has been the frequent self-sabotage in which Liverpool's defense has engaged--Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel are among the more notable saboteurs, but at other times it's been Sebastian Coates, Brad Jones, Jack Robinson, Andre Wisdom, and, to a lesser degree, Daniel Agger. Once stable and solid, Liverpool's defense has seemingly been prone to more costly mistakes than we're used to, and there's more than a few handfuls of points that have been dropped as a result.
The man many credit with having a stabilizing effect over the past few seasons makes his Anfield return tomorrow night, and while he likely won't be hoping Liverpool's defense suddenly solidifies, Steve Clarke has at least been impressed of late with how the club are moving forward:
"I'm not surprised now that some of the younger players are starting to flourish, or some of the more experienced ones that Kenny signed. It can take a period of time for people to settle into a club the size of Liverpool. For Stewart Downing to be in the team and Jordan Henderson, as well as Jose Enrique, and doing really well, is good. Luis Suarez has really settled into the club now and, if you look at it at this stage, Liverpool are probably playing the best football in the Premier League."
It's likely a case of an opposition manager--and former Liverpool coach at that--overstating the case, but there is an argument to be made that each of the names mentioned and the team as a whole are among the league's better sides on current form. Whether or not they can close out a match and get a result is unfortunately another thing all together, and while the performances have been better, their ability to finish a match off unfortunately is not.
Liverpool's defense will obviously be an important part of any result they'll be able to get, and Clarke's presence tomorrow will ideally be accompanied by improvements at the back. He won't have anything to do with it this time around, but it'd be nice if they could emulate the type of form he oversaw during his Liverpool tenure. Memories of the opening day failure at the Hawthorns are still fresh enough, with Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, and Jamie Carragher all culpable in some way, and hopefully tomorrow does enough to erase what was a wonderful day for Clarke and a miserable one for Liverpool.