Anfield witnessed two standing ovations on Saturday. Sadly for Albion, one was inspired by contemporary genius while the other was born of sentiment for daring deeds of the past.
When Luis Suarez left the field with a minute remaining, the famous old ground rose to acclaim a stunning hat-trick and possibly the finest individual display against the Baggies in the Premier League era.
Twenty-one minutes earlier, Nicolas Anelka was afforded a similar show of respect from the Liverpool faithful, but that acclaim was for fond memories of brilliance from a man who currently looks like the ghost of a once great player.
It is premature to write off the Frenchman’s Albion adventure just nine games into the Premier League season.
There remains time for the former Reds favourite to recreate some of the magic that once made him one of the deadliest strikers in the top flight.
But for now, the impression remains that Anelka is so far short of those heady days of brilliance that he creates more problems for the Baggies than he solves.
The magnificence of Suarez for the club Anelka once served with such class only served to highlight what is currently missing from the veteran’s game.
From his emergence as a youngster at Arsenal, through his brief but brilliant loan stint at Anfield, through to his successful return to the upper echelons with Chelsea five years ago, Anelka possessed the grace, power, pace and talent to transform a game as Suarez did at the weekend.
And, while few Albion fans believed they were getting the livewire Anelka when the 34-year-old version agreed to sign in the summer, they hoped for match-winning contributions from one of the Premier League’s greatest stars.
Instead, they currently have a figure muddying the waters for Steve Clarke as he did on Saturday, when his flat individual performance could not be blamed for the Baggies’ heavy loss, but when his restoration to the starting line-up clearly necessitated a reshuffle that dimmed the attacking spark of Clarke’s side.
Anelka came the closest he has so far to a goal for Albion, latching onto a clever Youssouf Mulumbu pass late in the first half before redirecting the ball towards goal, only for Martin Skrtel to make a scrambling clearance.
Nevertheless, that near-miss could not hide another subdued all-round display which contributed to a drop in standards throughout a team who had been playing their way into some solid form in recent weeks.
Anelka’s recall meant a switch for Victor Anichebe from his favoured centre-forward role to a wide-left berth in which he looked like a fish out of water.
By the time a return to the centre prompted an improved display from the former Everton man, his side were well behind the eight-ball in a fixture they had won memorably in each of the previous two seasons.
And a lacklustre performance from their star summer signing left the attacking midfield men, who have performed so well since transfer deadline day, with a less effective fulcrum to play around.
With their attacking colleagues lacking cohesion, Morgan Amalfitano restricted and ultimately sidelined by a knee problem and Claudio Yacob off the pace in front of the Baggies back four, Clarke’s defenders endured a torrid afternoon.
However, while Albion’s below-par performance was worth of constructive criticism, it is debatable whether any Premier League side could have withstood the outstanding efforts of Suarez on a day when the controversial striker ran riot.
He offered an early glimpse of his darker side with a theatrical tumble in the Albion box under a shirt-pull by Gareth McAuley which, while risky from the Baggies man, was not enough to prompt the forward’s dying swan act.
But from that moment it was all about Suarez’s brilliance, beginning with a wonderful goal to open the scoring on 12 minutes as he sidestepped Claudio Yacob, nutmegged Jonas Olsson and beat Boaz Myhill with an instinctive finish.
And five minutes later he was at it again, powering a fabulous, curling header past a helpless Myhill from 12 yards out from a cross that was lacking power and was almost accidental from Aly Cissokho. Martin Skrtel missed a great chance to make it 3-0 while Suarez and Jordan Henderson both went close as Albion were left looking dizzy by the incisive Reds attacks.
And, after Skrtel had denied Anelka and McAuley’s appeals for a penalty for a shove at a corner had been waved away, Suarez completed his hat-trick and effectively sealed the Reds’ victory on 55 minutes when he escaped Anichebe’s attentions to glance a Steven Gerrard free-kick past Myhill.
Albion kept trying and, when Billy Jones went down in a collision with Lucas and James Morrison blasted home the controversially-awarded penalty, it sparked a period of Baggies pressure at Anfield.
It might have had the hosts sweating had Chris Brunt’s long-range shot not crept just past the post or the captain’s shot from a Stephane Sessegnon cross not cleared the crossbar.
But with 13 minutes remaining Daniel Sturridge, who had previously rattled the crossbar, defeated Myhill with a sublime chip for Liverpool’s fourth goal to put the game to bed.
Suarez might have added two more to his tally but was denied by two saves from Myhill, the first of which was wonderful.
It did not prevent the star of the show receiving the kind of acclaim reserved for a wonderful talent at the peak of his powers.
Anelka must hope that such days are not forever in his past.