Tottenham 09/18/2011: Time for Introspection

I don’t get it.

I don’t get how we were beaten so comprehensively by a team that just a few weeks ago were labeled as also-rans and no longer realistic competitors for the Top Four. (For that matter, I don’t get how I bought into that hype.)

I don’t get why, with the threat posed by Gareth Bale’s raw pace, we opted to stick with Martin Skrtel as a makeshift right-back. John Flanagan deservedly his share of criticism following his positional mishap against Sunderland on opening day, but when you’re up against a left winger who on his day can terrorize even the finest of right-backs, you’re going to need a specialist on the right – and I don’t think he did too badly against opponents of a similar stature towards the end of last season.

Okay, perhaps Flanagan was not entirely match-fit, or even slightly injured, as has been suggested. That doesn’t excuse the positional naivety on show from said makeshift right-back, who was left utterly and depressingly exposed time and time again by Bale’s runs down the left. If the issue at hand is purely a lack of pace – understandable. But failing completely to keep even an eye on Bale’s positions required desperate attempts from Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger to fill in for ignored space and make up for lost time.

I don’t get why, on evidence of his painful rightfootedness, Stewart Downing is still considered on the right. Surely him cutting in on his left foot is one of our most predictable moves, and surely there are far more threatening options, especially when Henderson, with his painful leftfootness, is wasted on the left. Against a team who can take their chances so effectively, the least we have to do is create chances effectively. On current evidence, not only does this switching of flanks bring instability and imbalance to our formation, it blunts our creativity and width, which was supposed to be the attribute that we were most lacking.

For that matter, I don’t get why, after a summer of splashing the cash and supposedly strengthening the Liverpool team with players who “want to be here,” we remain as one-man a team as ever. We have been led to believe that Stewart Downing possesses that X-factor, that pace, that crossing ability, to threaten a defence and set up goals. We have been led to believe that Jordan Henderson is ready-made for a Kenny Dalglish team, with a keen eye for a pass and all the workrate required from a top-class midfielder. We have been led to believe that Charlie Adam is the key ingredient we’ve been missing in midfield, with that creative vision we’ve been lacking since Xabi Alonso’s departure to unlock our opponents’ midfield and defence.

I don’t mean this as a criticism of their individual ability, but rather as an alarmed notice of their mental attributes, as was on show at the Britannica. When the going is smooth, as against Bolton and to a lesser extent as at Arsenal, we are capable of producing some sumptuous passing play, true to our much-vaunted pass-and-move philosophies. But when the going gets tough, we haven’t seen the most important attribute of a top-class footballer: that he can stand up and be counted.

That’s why I personally can’t wait for Steven Gerrard’s return. Ahead of his much-anticipated return to our first team, much has been made of his age and his supposedly-declining bursts of energy. But where he’s at his unstoppable best for Liverpool is his competitiveness and leadership. When the chips are down, he comes up with the goods. And he’s capable of driving his team on to come up with the goods if he can’t do it just as often anymore.

And that’s why I also don’t get why Dirk Kuyt didn’t even get a look-in for this game. There aren’t many games bigger and higher-profile than Spurs at White Hart Lane, and Kenny still opted to leave out our most consistent fighter.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty: on another day, perhaps Skrtel could’ve had a blinder against Bale, and perhaps Charlie Adam would not have been sent off. On another day, perhaps Andy Carroll could’ve shown the same mobility and awareness displayed by Tottenham’s own targetman, Emmanuel Adebayor, and perhaps Scott Parker would not have proved to be such a bargain signing for Harry Redknapp’s midfield.

But hindsight is useful in evaluating our own options and how we move forward from here. And thanks to hindsight, I now get that all of our failings in this match were of our own (un)doing. Today, we weren’t outdone by controversial refereeing decisions. We were completely outclassed in every department by our fellow contenders for a Top Four spot.

Liverpool, and Kenny Dalglish, will have to take a good long, hard look in the mirror and see how we can pick ourselves up from here. Things are suddenly not so rosy anymore.