Liverpool 0 – West Ham 3: A Reflection

Lov Hurts

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Oh Dejan. Why did you do it to us? Just when you had us believing that you’d turned a corner and could once again be the player the club had signed from Southampton last summer you go and produce that performance. It’s the hope that’s the killer. Just when we’d accepted you were rubbish and weren’t going to make it at Liverpool you pull off a blinding start to the new season, leading the line superbly at The Emirates. Then West Ham come to town and you absolutely fall apart. It’s enough to make people break down in tears.

What went wrong for Lovren in the game against the Hammers? How did his early season promise turn into embarrassment for all concerned? Slaven Bilic, the West Ham manager, thinks it could have something to do with Liverpool’s desire to play a youngster at left back. After the match he said, “When he’s concentrated and thinking only about his own game, not about the left-back or whoever is alongside him, there are very few centre-halves who are better than him”.

It’s possible that that’s true. Gomez is an 18 year old, right footed centre back who is being asked to play as a left back. He’s been incredibly impressive since his arrival at Anfield, managing to keep Arsenal quiet when the Gunners deliberately targeted him in the game at The Emirates. But he is young, he is inexperienced and he needs help during the game from his nearest defensive partner. Lovren has been slightly better in the first three games of this season than at any time in the last campaign, but he’s still not in the best frame of mind to be looking after someone else’s game as well as his own.

@Paul_Tomkins said on Twitter, “As analysis has shown, Lovren can be good when he stays central and doesn’t get dragged wide. Once dragged wide he can be utter tripe”. It’s difficult to argue with this notion when you re-watch the highlights of the game. The Croatian’s mistake for the second goal came when he was dragged out to the left wing. Would this have happened if a more experienced left back was on the pitch instead of Gomez? Should Rodgers, whose backroom staff must surely know that Lovren isn’t at his best when pulled out wide, have done more to protect both his young prospect and his more experience player who is struggling for confidence?

Though actually that’s part of the problem – Lovren isn’t struggling for confidence; if anything the player has too much confidence. Why else would a central defender lose the ball on the halfway line by trying to do step overs? Is there another reason a player, who is yet to win over the Anfield faithful, would spend time trying to spray passes from the left side of the defence to the right side of the attack, like Steven Gerrard in his pomp? Sadly he’s far more like Charlie Adam than the former Liverpool captain.

Mamadou Sakho must be wondering what he needs to do to get back in to the Liverpool first team. The Frenchman was the youngest ever captain of Paris St. Germain at the age of 17, leading us to assume that he must know how to communicate well with his defensive partners. He’s also a significantly better defender than his Croatian colleague, meaning he’ll surely be tearing his well styled hair out if he doesn’t come in to the team for the game against Manchester United.

If Brendan Rodgers continues to persist in his desire to favour Lovren over Sakho it could be the decision that leads to his dismissal. He might genuinely believe that Lovren is a top class defender, but his performances on the pitch are proving the manager wrong. If he leaves him in the team for the game at Old Trafford and the Croat makes another mistake that costs Liverpool the 3 points, the manager’s position will come under increasing pressure, perhaps even getting him the Sak(ho). [Sorry – ed.]

Cout In Oh, Oh, No

 

By Dean Jones (Flickr: Coutinho Goal) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dean Jones (Flickr: Coutinho Goal) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Philippe Coutinho has been the shining light of Liverpool’s season so far. Come to think of it he was also the main good thing of Liverpool’s 2014 – 2015 campaign, scoring crucial goals and generally being the focal point of the team. So why, oh why did he have to get himself banned from the crucial game against Manchester United that’s coming up after the international break?

The Brazilian’s first yellow card was the softest yellow card you’re ever likely to see. It was given to him when he failed to retreat far enough from a free kick – perhaps incensed by the fact that the inept Kevin Friend had failed to give him a free kick when he was fouled. That he failed to move far enough away from the free kick is something that players do week in, week out, game in, game out without ever being picked up on it, so questions could be asked about why Friend decided to put him in the book when so many other referees let such things go regularly.

Regardless of whether or not he should have been booked he was shown the yellow card by Friend, meaning the player should have been more careful for the remainder of the match. Questions can also be asked of whether his second yellow really was a bookable offence, with Coutinho seemingly trying to pull out of the challenge when he realised that Dimitri Payet had done a spin on the ball. His momentum carried him forward, though, and when he slid into Payet the challenge looked worse than it was in reality.

In a different match with a different referee there’s no question that Philippe Coutinho lasts the 90 minutes, but the Liverpool talisman should have stayed on his feet and been more careful when faced with a referee who had already shown himself to be entirely incompetent. Had he stayed on his feet and stayed on his feet then that in itself would have opened up a series of different possibilities. At half time it appeared that Rodgers was considering a double change, with Moreno and Ings warming up. He obviously decided to make just the one change and see how they got on for the first ten minutes or so. Did Coutinho’s sending off stop the manager from making the tactical change he was considering?

We’ll never know about that, of course, but what can’t be argued about is the fact that Liverpool’s most influential player across the six months or so will be absence from what has become an important game at Old Trafford. The old enemy haven’t been playing well so far this season but they have been able to claw a couple of ok results together. If Liverpool can head into the belly of the beast and emerge with a decent result it could be the catalyst needed to improve the team moving forward. Can they do it without their little magician, though? It’ll definitely take a little bit of magic from somewhere.

Tek It Or Leave It

By Delval Loïc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Delval Loïc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Christian Benteke has done everything asked of him so far in his Liverpool career. The big Belgian has had virtually every ball booted up long to him by the goalkeeper and numerous different defenders, yet he’s controlled them well, brought the ball down and looked for a pass to one of the advancing players.

The biggest problem Liverpool have faced is that there haven’t been enough advancing players. Benteke has been superb, but he’s been isolated far too often and if Liverpool are hoping to be an attacking force moving forward then Brendan Rodgers needs to find a way to get players in and around his £32.5 million man.

In the opening four games of the season the Reds have managed just two goals. One of them was an absolutely blinder by Philippe Coutinho and came against the run of play, whilst the other was a tap in from Benteke and probably shouldn’t have counted if the assistant referee had known the new offside rules. Against Arsenal Liverpool had plenty of opportunities in the first half but failed to convert any of them, leading to a worrying second half in which a single goal for the Gunners would have won them the match.

In last weekend’s game against West Ham the Reds managed just one shot on target and even that was a poor effort from Dejan Lovren. They failed to turn the screw with any sense of urgency towards the end of the match, perhaps using the fact that they were down to ten men as an excuse.

It’s easy to see what Rodgers has been hoping for so far, with Coutinho and either Jordan Ibe or Roberto Firmino tasked with the job of buzzing around Benteke in order to pick up his knock downs and get Liverpool on the charge. Coutinho has also already demonstrated a good understanding with the Reds’ new striker, playing some lovely passes to him and nearly setting him up on a couple of occasions. But it isn’t enough and the Belgian has looked a lonely figure for far too much of every game Liverpool have played.

The other question that needs to be asked of Brendan Rodgers is how he’s planning to fit Daniel Sturridge into the team. There’s no question that the England striker will come back into the team to work alongside his Belgian counterpart when he’s back to full fitness, but where would he fit in to the current team? Why isn’t the Liverpool manager using a formation that will allow the prolific hitman to come in to the team smoothly? He’s certainly got the squad, with both Danny Ings and Divock Origi in the set up and raring to go.

Surely the formation that will fit this current squad moving forward will be a 4-4-2 diamond, the formation that worked so well for the Reds in the 2013 – 2014 season? We’d envisage something like this when everyone is fit and firing:

 

Mignolet

Clyne                          Skrtel                     Sakho                   Moreno

Henderson

Milner                                                             Firmino

Coutinho

Benteke                                  Sturridge

 

 

The question is, why hasn’t that been introduced already? Replace Sturridge with Ings and you’ve not only got a solid formation with talented players but you’ve also got the support that Benteke needs. On top of that Philippe Coutinho will have the options in front of him that he thrives off. If this formation is introduced against Manchester United at Old Trafford you won’t see many Liverpool fans complaining.

Rodgers Over And Out

photofriday / shutterstock.com

photofriday / shutterstock.com

Unless Liverpool completely and utterly collapse and find themselves in the relegation zone heading in to December then it’s as good as certain that Brendan Rodgers will be the Reds’ manager for the duration of the season. He should be too, despite what those that dislike the Northern Irishman would have you believe. He proved in the 2013 – 2014 season that he knows how to get a team playing attractive, attacking football when he’s given the right tools to work with. He didn’t have those tools last season and he therefore deserves a chance to prove what he’s capable of.

But goodness he doesn’t half make life difficult for himself.

Before the match against West Ham he said it was likely to be the most difficult of the four games the Reds had to play before the international break. It could have been what Bob Paisley used to call ‘a bit of toffee’, the act of flattering them, so that they perhaps had an inflated opinion of themselves. It could have been intended to ensure the Liverpool players remained focused on the game and didn’t assume that the hard work was over because they’d emerged from tough ties against Stoke and Arsenal with four points from six. Whatever the logic his tactic backfired and he looked a bit foolish in the aftermath of the match itself.

If that wasn’t bad enough, here’s what he had to say about Dejan Lovren before the game, “Dejan knows he’s still got to improve elements of his game but I think you’re seeing that confidence in his game and that stature that he has. I think over the course of the season you will see a different player”. A different player, indeed. Of course you can’t blame Brendan Rodgers’ words in the press conference for Lovren’s truly hideous performance in the game against West Ham, but it might not be too unfair to question why Rodgers felt he had to say anything at all.

Whether it’s fair or not there’s no question that Brendan Rodgers is under pressure to perform this season and that he needs to do that straight away. Plenty of Liverpool fans lost faith in the Northern Irishman early last season, with the man in the Anfield hot seat gaining himself a reprieve when he took the team on a 14 game unbeaten run in the Premier League. Yet the knives were never fully sheathed and plenty had a desire to stick the knife in at the first opportunity. A complete collapse at the end of the season was just the opportunity the Rodgers haters were looking for, with Liverpool losing to Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi final, 4-1 at The Emirates, 3-1 to Crystal Palace at Anfield in Steven Gerrard’s final home game and 6-1 to Stoke at The Britannia on the final day of the season.

The result against Stoke was, for many, the straw that broke the camel’s back and even diehard Rodgers supporters might not have been too disappointed to see the gaffer sacked over the summer. When FSG decided to back the Northern Irishman heading into this season plenty of fans begrudgingly chose to back him, but he won’t keep their support for long if he isn’t able to produce the results. Given that he made a conscious choice to talk about the importance of winning your home games before the season got underway Rodgers needs to make sure his squad follow his words carefully; if they don’t then it really could be Rodgers over and out for the current Liverpool manager.

West Ham Credit Where It’s Due

Lario Tus / shutterstock.com

Lario Tus / shutterstock.com

As a Liverpool centric website it’s somewhat inevitable that we’re going to view Liverpool matches from the point of view of the failings of the Reds more than the performance of the opposition. Yet it’s important to remember that there are eleven players on the other team, as well as those on the bench and all of the managerial team, whose job is to ensure that Liverpool don’t get a result.

Credit should go to Slaven Bilic and West Ham, then, who did exactly what needed to be done to stop Liverpool from taking the three points at Anfield. It is especially important to acknowledge the job they did when you consider that West Ham have failed to win at Liverpool’s home ground since 1963.

After the match Bilic’s interview with Match Of The Day was somewhat confusing, with the manager talking about parking the bus but not leaving the hand break on. In other words he never intended to do a Jose Mourinho and stick eleven men behind the ball and stifle the life out of the match. Rather he hoped to exploit Liverpool’s attacking intent, hitting them on the counter attack and not giving them the run of the final third of the pitch.

Sufficed to say they achieved their target, making life as difficult as possible for Liverpool and restricting the Reds to just one shot on target in a home match they were expected to win comfortably. Not only that but they caused the Reds no end of trouble moving forward, with Liverpool conceding early doors and looking vulnerable every time the London team were on the attack.

There was solidity at the back from West Ham, too. Sometimes the fact that a team doesn’t get many shots on target doesn’t tell the whole story, and Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace at the weekend can be seen as a case in point. Yet the truth is that the stat is, if anything, flattering to Liverpool. Whilst Mark Noble scored his goal by being calm, collected and intelligent with his shot, James Milner had a glorious chance to hit the target in the second half only to panic and try to force the issue, dragging his shot wide of the post and never asking any real questions of the West Ham goalkeeper.

It’s easy to talk about Liverpool’s failings and, of course, in the case of the likes of Dejan Lovren it’s quite right to. Yet we should also give praise to Slaven Bilic for his tactics and intelligence in knowing how to pressure Liverpool in the right places. Though Lovren had a shocker at the back he wouldn’t have been found out if Manuel Lanzini hadn’t been on his back for the whole game, harassing and harrying the defender to make sure he forced the mistake out of him.

It’s not easy to think of anything other than negatives after a home performance like the one the Liverpool team gave against West Ham. Yet it’s important to give credit where it’s due and Slaven Bilic and the Hammers definitely deserve our praise.

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