Mel hails 'fantastic' Suarez
West Brom head coach Pepe Mel is ready to pit his wits against a Liverpool side spearheaded by a forward he believes may be the best in the world in Luis Suarez.
The Spaniard has had an interesting introduction to life in the Barclays Premier League since succeeding Steve Clarke, drawing his opening match against Everton before ending up on the wrong side of a 4-3 thriller against local rivals Aston Villa on Wednesday.
The derby defeat was tough to take, as Mel watched his side take an early 2-0 lead only to be pegged back by the home team, before losing the points courtesy of a Christian Benteke penalty.
Mel revealed ahead of Liverpool's visit on Sunday that a team meeting was held this week to help Albion move on from the Villa defeat. Now he is readying himself for the arrival of a Reds side in sparkling form, inspired by the maverick genius of Uruguayan striker Suarez.
"Suarez is in fantastic form, there aren't many players like him," said Mel. "In my opinion he is in the top one or two forwards in the world at the moment.
"But just as important as Suarez is Steven Gerrard, because it's Gerrard who provides the passes for Suarez in the first place."
Mel admits Brendan Rodgers' silky side will pose a very different challenge to the long-ball tactics which saw Villa edge Wednesday's derby.
"Liverpool are a big team, of course," he said. "But they are a different team to Aston Villa.
"Liverpool use more build-up play whereas Aston Villa play long with Benteke, with us having to play against the second balls (from his flick-ons). It was a difficult game for us.
"Liverpool, though, are more like Everton and play in the same way.
"It isn't that Liverpool is a better or easier game for us than Aston Villa, it's just that it's a different type of opponent.
"For me, Aston Villa played, very, very well but Liverpool play a different game. Liverpool use more build-up play while Villa get the ball forward quicker. It's not that one is better than the other, it's just different."
Mel's side sit just three points away from the bottom three, and while the former Real Betis boss has admitted they are in a relegation battle, he is wary of letting it affect their focus.
"I believe we're strong enough to avoid relegation," he said. "For me it's important only to look in front of us and focus on the next game.
"We need the points, of course, but we need to produce a lot of hard work to get them."
Mel will be without forwards Nicolas Anelka (knee) and Stephane Sessegnon (groin) for the Reds' visit to The Hawthorns.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has emphasised the character and sense of team ethic he feels there is within his squad as the Reds look to move on from a disappointing January transfer window.
The Merseyside outfit's attempts to strengthen during the window did not yield a single signing, with one of their targets, Mohamed Salah, opting to join Chelsea and a deal for another, Yevhen Konoplyanka, failing to materialise before Friday's deadline.
But Rodgers, whose side are fourth in the Barclays Premier League and thrashed derby rivals Everton 4-0 on Tuesday, has insisted he is "very optimistic" about the group of players already at his disposal in terms of their prospects of having "a really good finish" to the season.
And he sees their character - something he thinks they have in "bucketloads" - as being key to that.
Asked about leaders in his team, Rodgers said: "If you look at the game the other night, (captain) Steven Gerrard was organising, dictating the game, ordering people about.
"Martin Skrtel is really taking on board the leadership qualities and was outstanding, Kolo Toure is a natural leader and before the game, young Jon Flanagan was really vocal in the changing room. Luis Suarez is a natural leader and Jordan Henderson is coming out of his shell.
"It is a natural evolution of the team and the group and you see that character and personality starting to come into the team, which takes time.
"It is players understanding the kind of characteristics we are looking for and it is good to see.
"I think we have been challenged since I have been here, especially early on, about if we have enough character, if we can come back from losing positions, if we can fight, and I think we are seeing all those qualities now - and that will only improve as we grow together."
Midfielder Joe Allen, who has missed the last two games due to a hamstring problem, is set to return to Liverpool's matchday squad for the clash at The Hawthorns.