In an action-packed day of Premier League fixtures, two red cards and a 3-0 away defeat for a side that had previously conceded no goals this season was fairly run of the mill. Certainly there was nothing more than average about the Liverpool performance; impotence going forward coupled with defensive ineptitude, the now familiar recipe seen for much of last season, once again served up a hugely disappointing result. An admittedly well-drilled West Ham side took full advantage of our mediocre (at best) play, choosing their moments to get forward and punish our vulnerable back line.
The only real positive to be taken from the defeat is that it clearly demonstrated the two areas of weakness that need addressing. Unfortunately these two areas happen to be the two fundamental parts of football: defence and attack! However, neither our front nor back lines looked beyond repair. The defence would be improved immediately by the removal of Lovren and installation of Sakho – the Croatian did us a favour by making his error for the second goal glaringly obvious, meaning even Rodgers must surely realise it’s time to give Sakho a chance. Seeing as the main (largely misdirected) criticism of the Frenchman is that he’s clumsy on the ball, it’s impossible to justify playing Lovren ahead of him: he’s hardly Maradona himself. Skrtel, too, looked pretty woeful; while he made no errors leading directly to goals, his half-hearted headed clearance certainly didn’t help matters for the visitors’ opener. Sadly, though, he appears to be pretty much an ever-present in the team, and unless Rodgers goes it seems unlikely that Gomez or perhaps Ilori will be given a chance in Skrtel’s stead. In terms of the attack, the problem is the same as it was last season – we simply aren’t creating enough chances. If anything the arrival of Benteke has exacerbated that problem; when short of ideas and options we are now simply hoofing it up to the Belgian, whose knock-downs are not being picked up by anyone in a red shirt. At least last season we would persist with passes on the edge of the opponent’s box and occasionally manage to carve an opening – unless Rodgers changes the way his team are trying to utilise Benteke, it’s hard to see where any chances will come from against deep-sitting teams this campaign.
Hopefully Brendan either addresses this issue or gets replaced, but in the short term the only goals we look like getting are from pieces of individual inspiration. Coutinho scored a screamer against Stoke in the first game and, promisingly, Firmino came extremely close against the Hammers. He jinked past two with a lovely piece of skill before firing towards Randolph’s goal – only the post prevented him from marking his home debut in great style. He has already impressed with his pressing off the ball since arriving, but on the ball we have not seen too much of the skill we all know he possesses: this excellent effort was a good reminder amidst the mediocrity that the near future is not completely bleak. When Firmino really gets going, Coutinho returns from suspension and Sturridge returns then there should be enough pace and trickery to at least partially solve the chance creation issue, and hopefully it won’t be too late to salvage any damage done early on.
It must also be remembered that, prior to this game, no damage had really been done. We took maximum points from the first two and managed to leave the Emirates with a draw – by any standards, this was a solid start. Of course performance is important, but the fact that we picked up points despite poor play in the first three games means that we have a degree of leeway. We remain three points clear of the champions and level on points with Arsenal, so it’s hardly like we’re being left behind. If it takes a few more games to get into our stride then so be it – it’s only if we’re still putting in performances like this come November sort of time when we’ve really got a problem.
On the whole, then, this match should not necessarily be taken as disastrous. Ignoring the worrying signs from the match would be ridiculous, but equally there is simply nothing to be gained from reading too much into one game. There are definitely things to work on and lessons that Rodgers needs to learn quickly, both for the sake of the club and his job, but until we see clear signs that this performance and result was the rule rather than the exception then there is no need to panic. Let’s all just calm down!