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West Brom 08/18/2012: What Went Wrong?

After the opening weekend of the English Premier League season, Liverpool find themselves third from bottom in the league table, courtesy of a 3-0 loss against West Brom at the Hawthorns.

Perhaps equally memorable for Zoltan Gera’s long-range strike as it will be for Liverpool’s double-penalty farce, the game marked Liverpool’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season.

The saving grace is that Brendan Rodgers has time to turn it around, but in an increasingly cutthroat Premier League, the Reds must rebound quickly.

Hindsight is 20-20, but let’s now consider five things that Rodgers got wildly wrong in an embarrassing result for his new club.

1. Failing to Set Up His Defence Against Shane Long

The first error was made painfully obvious even from the opening whistle.

Shane Long has been known for his industrious work rate leading the West Brom line, and the partnership of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger just didn’t do enough to contain his threat up front.

Taking their time on the ball and not being mindful of Long’s presence, Skrtel and Agger were at fault for the goal that secured West Brom’s eventual victory and for Agger’s sending off.

Whether the red card and the two penalties would not have been given in an alternate universe remains up for debate, but if Skrtel and Agger had so much trouble against a harrying Shane Long, how can they be expected to contain the likes of Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli for Manchester City this coming Sunday?

2. Throwing Lucas Back into the Deep End

Last Saturday marked Lucas’ return to the starting lineup in a Premier League game for the best part of nine months.

Which in itself is commendable on Lucas’ part—but in hindsight perhaps Rodgers could have done more to ease him back into the team.

That Rodgers had no qualms about slotting him straight back into his starting XI was perhaps a testament to his faith in Lucas and Lucas’ own ability. While his partnership in central midfield with Joe Allen had plenty of encouraging signs, they were ultimately overrun by a physical duo of Youssuf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob.

The argument for Lucas’ extensive gametime is perhaps that he has featured all throughout Liverpool’s preseason, but the EPL is a whole different beast.

3. Playing and Sticking with Stewart Downing

Stewart Downing was rewarded for his fine preseason displays with a starting berth on the right wing in a front three; only for Downing to reward Rodgers’ faith with a typically anonymous performance with no end product.

If there is one thing that Rodgers should take away from his opening-day loss, it should be that Downing only delivers in games against lower-league opposition (see his dazzling cup performances last term) and those with little to no implication (see his preseason displays and that in Belarus against FC Gomel, with whom a second leg at Anfield beckoned).

Time and again the ball fell at Downing’s feet, only for him to waste crossing chance after crossing chance, or to halt the play completely while he switched back onto his favored left foot (also known as his only operable foot).

Perhaps his replacement after Agger’s sending off—Jamie Carragher—could’ve done a better job.

4. Switching Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini’s Positions

After an eye-catching display against FC Gomel, Fabio Borini emerged as a decent goalscoring option for Liverpool, and his dovetailing with Luis Suarez seemed to be an encouraging prospect.

The Suarez-Borini partnership was going swimmingly until Rodgers decided to tinker with it by switching their positions.

Previously granted the freedom of the left wing, Suarez was utilized in a central striking role against West Brom, which allowed the opposing defenders to focus their attentions on him.

While his trickery and unpredictability still ensured that they had to endure an uncomfortable night, he failed to display the finishing composure that should be expected from a central striker.

By contrast, Borini, who previously excelled at finding the space that a predatory striker thrives on, was shunted out to the wing, where he, with lesser dribbling and outright pace, failed to trouble the West Brom defence.

Together with Downing, Borini formed an anonymous wing partnership and a toothless alliance with Suarez.

5. Delaying Andy Carroll’s Introduction

The nature of a Plan B is that it should be used if Plan A doesn’t work out.

But in the case of Andy Carroll, he might not even have taken to the Hawthorns pitch if it weren’t for Joe Cole’s hamstring injury just minutes after Liverpool’s No. 10 came on as a substitute himself.

In delaying Andy Carroll’s introduction, Rodgers seemed to tread in Kenny Dalglish’s footsteps, and that hesitancy and reluctance in making key substitutions will not augur well for both the Liverpool fans and for Carroll himself.

There is perhaps a case against sending on a striker—and a big targetman at that—when you are 3-0 down, but had he been introduced early, he would have given the West Brom defence something else to worry about against a 10-man Liverpool—and an extra outlet for the Reds attack.

The Silver Lining…?

The silver lining in Saturday’s cloud, of course, is that it was Brendan Rodgers’ first league game in charge of Liverpool.

The Rodgers revolution was always going to take time, and if anything, the West Brom result perhaps served to bring expectations down to earth, albeit in an extremely sobering manner.

Perhaps it will have taken such a result for Rodgers to realize some of the points made above.

Hindsight is 20-20, but retrospect is only useful when you act on your mistakes to tackle problems in the future.

The 3-0 loss against Steve Clarke’s side will have been for nothing if Rodgers doesn’t make changes accordingly in the games to come.

 

Original article from Bleacher Report

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West Brom 10/29/2011: More of the Same

This is fast becoming a Liverpool staple.

Lots of chance created. Dominating possession. Points in the bag. Economical.

But for the clean sheet, which is fast losing its Liverpool staple status, and the three League points, this was a typical performances from Kenny Dalglish’s charges. So I’ll keep it short this time.

Two individual things stand out.

First, Stewart Downing is possibly the most directly nonconstructive player on the Liverpool team right now. 10 league appearances, no goals, no assists. How many times has he beat his man on the flanks? How many times has he delivered a successful ball into the box for Andy Carroll to attack? (More on Carroll later.) The #19 looks less and less the missing piece to our jigsaw, as proclaimed by Damien Comolli following Downing’s signing in the summer. His runs and crossing look less and less effective by the game, and Jose Enrique is currently taking on everything down the left flank. Kenny Dalglish’s best summer signing without a shadow of doubt.

A word for Glen Johnson on the opposite flank. Aside from Manchester City’s Galacticos-style rotation policy, the battle for Liverpool’s starting right-back slot has become one of the most fascinating positional battles in the League this season. Glen Johnson showed signs of life, his dribbling and pace causing problems in the West Brom half. Against smaller teams, the more defensively-sound Martin Kelly will have to bide his time, because there’s no denying that Johnson, just like Enrique, can act like an extra winger. But this competition can only prove beneficial to England in the longer run. And don’t forget young Jon Flanagan waiting in the wings.

Second, Luis Suarez began the game with 17 shots off target so far this season, the most in the League. He finished the game with 22, the most in the League. Somewhat unsurprisingly, all his 5 shots taken against West Brom were off target. He is rightly taking the plaudits for making Liverpool tick and for generally causing havoc in every opposition area he comes across, but there’s got to be a certain level of balanced perspective. And Kenny must make sure this doesn’t get to Suarez’s head.

Selfishness is fine, but not unproductive selfishness. The right-sided freekick in the first half, which he insisted on taking at the expense of the left-footed and more prolific Charlie Adam, was a typical example of his competitiveness and willingness to make everything work. It was also a typical example of his off-target shooting.

Now if only Suarez could use his unpredictability to drag away defenders and then create chances for his strike partners, just like his deftly chipped pass to Carroll, whose first-time left-foot volley was smothered by a good block, and exactly like his sublime through-ball for Carroll’s goal.

To be sure, Carroll’s was a sketchy first touch en route to his goal. But it was an underrated outside-of-the-foot finish. In general, this was a game that started to show signs of life in the Andy Carroll-Luis Suarez partnership.

Besides scoring a goal, Carroll impressed with his improved positioning and desire. While Downing put in his non-existent crossing into the box, Carroll’s off-the-ball movement into key attacking positions was noteworthy, and his run into space to receive Suarez’s through-ball also showed signs of increased understanding. It’s time to take advantage of an increasingly confident Andy Carroll.

Perhaps with Carroll firing on all cylinders, Liverpool will finally turn their attacking dominance into goal gluts.

For now, 18 shots still only yielded 2 goals. And currently, out of the Top Six, Liverpool trail by some distance in terms of goals scored.

The finishing is still profligate. More of the same, really.

Three points on the back of an attack that has yet to hit top form. More of the same, please.