We have all woken up this Monday morning to the back pages filled with a reminder of our dismal performance. As we counted down the hours to 3 PM on Saturday with pint in hand, I doubt most of us anticipated the events that would transpire at the Hawthorns.
As is often the case many fans would ask the question, where did it all go wrong?
A new manager, new players, I know I was expecting all three points and proof in the shape of a resounding victory that we will be back with Europe’s elite in no time at all.
It has become apparent to me that the nature of expectations in the Premier League is a constantly changing landscape, with the horizon of long term views disappearing. It is certainly difficult, especially in the Premier League, to constantly accept that rebuilding Liverpool Football Club will take time when we have already given so much of this.
I digress, back to the game on Saturday.
It would seem fair to say that we have once again started our season with a bit of bad luck. Gera’s strike (a man who has not scored in four seasons due to injury and the like) was reminiscent of a certain Zinedine Zidane goal in the Champions League final a few years back. Despite Steve Clarke’s claims at “expecting to win” I highly doubt even he expected a right footed volley to bend through everything into Pepe Reina’s net from a player who could not manage five starts for the baggies last season.
Of all the pills to swallow, this was certainly one of the most bitter, for a new look Liverpool team who are finding their feet. It certainly seemed to knock the wind out of the player’s sails, and perhaps brought back some nightmares of games last season where, despite dominating, Liverpool would only manage a single point or none at all. This, a little less than three minutes before the half time whistle made it a devastating blow to the psyche of the Liverpool team. It was once again very reminiscent of lacking a final touch and Liverpool paying the price for it by conceding at a poor time.
Open the second half and Liverpool looked more tentative. The play that built up to the first penalty and red card was typical of the type of tactics that would penetrate deep into Liverpool’s formation under Rodgers. Our midfield moved forward pressing the play, a quick win of the ball by West Brom, a counter attack to Kelly and it was always going to be tricky to deal with, made worse by a team who are still adopting a style of play, it is no surprise Agger was caught wrong footed. The red card he received then meant a team adopting a new style of play, now had to implement it with ten men. Difficult, even with the most talented of line ups.
Despite this at 1 -0 down things looked like they may not end badly, with Reina’s save there seemed to be turn of events and the mind flicked to thoughts of Liverpool’s fighting character. However, we were once again reminded how things can always get worse when Long’s tackle on Skrtel somehow resulted in another penalty. This was highly contentious, as in my view the overarching responsibility of the referee is to keep the game flowing and promote good football. Yes Skrtel was caught napping, but I feel it hard to accept a penalty award where Long was never in a goal scoring position and never would have been. He essentially ran into Skrtel who was trying to pass the ball. It never helps to blame the referee, but I thought that in a game where West Brom had already been given an advantage of an extra man and a penalty, it would have been fair that a 50/50 decision like this, could be chalked down to a collision between players and play restarted. Dowd saw things differently and in my opinion he chose to impact the game.
At this point the game was a write off, the third goal coming from the loaned Romelu Lukaku, after a deflected clearance provided the final bit of evidence to the theory that luck was just not with Liverpool or Rodgers this time.
Or is it just bad luck?
Well the penalty decisions maybe, but the play leading to the decisions? For months Liverpool has been discussing playing the ball from the back, pressing in the midfield with wing backs and being patient, defending with the ball. This provided a pretty clear target for Clarke to aim directly at: his counter tactics were very clear, combat the ball in midfield, break up play and counter attack quickly. Hassle defenders, force mistakes and take advantage. Moreover, Clarke worked under the man who first applied these tactics so successfully with Inter and Real Madrid against the pass masters, is it a surprise that he would have fundamental understanding of what tactics would work against the Tika Taka style so effectively?
It is my expectation that it will take time for Brendan Rodgers to apply his philosophies fully to Liverpool, this much was clear on Saturday. He has my full support, and he should also have yours, unwavering support through wins and losses. These men have dedicated their lives to football, and while we are some of the most passionate fans, few have made a life’s work out of football or would trust Rodgers if the tables were turned and he gave advice to a Liverpool supporting mechanic on how to repair a cars problem.
Brendan Rodgers has certainly given us the horizon to look towards that felt missing for a very long time from this illustrious club.
But Liverpool has a perpetual red target attached to it for all clubs to take aim at, where a style of play could quietly blossom without expectation at Swansea, it will be spot lit and analysed at Liverpool on a larger scale. Brendan Rodgers must make sure that he has a few more unexpected tricks up his sleeve if he is to be successful during the teething stage of his career as Liverpool manager. In Saturday’s match, perhaps taking on Clarke’s tactics needed a stronger plan B?
Brendan’s biggest challenge must be to instil confid ence in a talented group that appears psychologically vulnerable. In order to be consistent the group needs to believe that losing as a Liverpool team is as likely as getting a tan on a beach in Scotland.
This will not be easy, but I do believe that the young bright players have the headstrong nature of youth to gain this confidence. Young players will need to step up and take responsibility as Gerrard did in Istanbul, by taking the game by the scruff of the neck and refusing to lose. These players need to be the change they want to see in the club so to speak, as relying on our talisman player, who has already done so much for this club, would be unfair to him and ultimately futile to any form of long term growth of the club.
What I do believe is that Rodgers is the man who is creating the platform for this change to happen and confidence to grow. We are no longer blindly walking in circles in the woods passing the same tree. The way out can be seen, it’s now about believing in the path he has chosen and taking it.