Where did it all go wrong for Liverpool on their 3-0 opening day defeat?
So the season has finally begun and, already, it has wasted no time in throwing up incredible drama, picking up where it left off on the last day, last footballing year.
The Premier League is a league unlike any other; this is indisputable if the opening weekend results are anything to go by as the league began with shocks, high-scoring results and unexpected performances.
The ‘football nation’ had been patiently waiting for this season to start, making their predictions and asserting their hopes for their respective teams. Arguably, no fandom did this more so than those associated with Liverpool – so fervent was the anticipation of what we could come to expect from the red men that, prior to the big kick-off, ‘Liverpool’ (and Liverpool alone) became a worldwide trend on the social network, Twitter.
It’s safe to say that this was an occurrence precipitated by doubters as well as admirers. It is also worth noting that a team not considered interesting to watch just wouldn’t generate this kind of curiosity.
Whether you were with the club or against them, a bright start was expected from the club that spent over £25 million in the transfer market to improve the team, with many professional pundits predicting a torrid time for the home team. Still, football, as is so often the case, rarely listens to the statistic-based calculations of mere mortals; it certainly didn’t in this instance as West Bromwich Albion ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
After a relatively successful preseason in which we were given a preview of Rodgers’ new look side, the reality of the Premiership quickly allayed the fervour but there are many easily rectifiable reasons that led to such a dismal start.
Slow From Start to Finish
They always say in football that you have to ‘begin as you wish to end’ subsequently giving yourself the best chance of achieving the desired outcome. Maybe this should have been part of Brendan Rodgers’ first Premiership team talk as his team lack any genuine tempo to their play from the off.
Controlling possession was always going to be a feature that the Anfield side would dominate but they were rarely ever able to make it count due to the fact that they weren’t forcing the opponent to move out of position before swiftly capitalising. That’s the difference between what Barcelona do and what we saw from Liverpool: the ability to draw the smallest mistake from the opposition then exploit the gaps before they are closed again.
Several of the players looked lethargic and, in many respects, this was the main cause of their downfall whereas West Brom seemed to be three weeks ahead in sharpness and an entire campaign ahead in desire.
Unproductive In the Final Third
Liverpool were occasionally fortunate enough to get into some decent positions – particularly in the wide areas – yet they were never able to deliver the telling pass. Too often, the crosses and passes were either inaccurate, over-hit or wildly skewed for a goal kick.
Johnson, Downing and new boy, Borini, were all culpable of poor productivity throughout the game, getting into decent areas then seeming to lack ideas. Even the usually flawless Steven Gerrard failed to display his usual dynamism on a rare off day.
Credit must also be given to the home team who understood that a 4-3-3 formation would make the Merseysiders play narrow, so they shut these avenues forcing them to work harder to gain anything beneficial around the goal area.
Game Plan Did Not Fit Personnel
It’s already been widely publicised (possibly, unfortunately so) how Rodgers’ likes his sides to operate: in a 4-3-3 formation with his left and right backs playing as wing backs during attacks. As previously alluded to, this approach is designed primarily to attack through the heart of the defence rather than around it but that would demand neat quick passing the likes of which most of Liverpool’s starting eleven hadn’t attempted before. Consequently, this style only served to aid West Brom as they never needed to work extremely hard to recover possession.
Liverpool reacted, working the flanks more often than they had in the opening exchanges; not changing the formation – instead, allowing Downing and Borini to work out there with back up from Johnson and Kelly. Though there were a few good crosses, the front men were amongst the land of the giants as each of the Albion defenders towered over each of the Liverpool attackers. There was no target man for this ploy in the mould of an Andy Carroll who would have caused more problems nor were Liverpool showing the urgency to flood the box with numbers.
Here’s a problem returning from the prior season with a vengeance. Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal – the very same that saw them hit the goalposts over 30 times and miss countless clear-cut opportunities – told again as they amassed 16 shots on the day but only managed 2 on target.
Luis Suarez – for all his mercurial skill and intelligence – continues to illustrate that he is not a natural finisher as he squandered the most opportunities, particularly a 7-yard header brilliantly provided from a Borini cross.
Agger and Skrtel have been linked with big money moves to the top clubs over the summer but one wonders just how many will still be willing to shell out the cash having seen Saturday’s display. Of course we cannot judge players based on a single game, particularly the first game of the season, nonetheless the pair optimised Liverpool’s collapse.
Atypically for a defence which conceded the third least goals in 2011/12, they appeared indecisive, weak and generally amateurish in going about their business. West Brom’s strikers were not exactly scintillating yet, every time the ball was played up to them, you could sense the concern within the away fans.
So many of these problems require short term solutions; Liverpool know within themselves that they unperformed dramatically. Though, the finishing and creativity that the club was synonymous for in the past seems to have seeped out of their play for some while now. Rodgers will need to invest more time into getting to the bottom of this or Liverpool could be in danger of falling into their previous impasse.
image: © Viking-