Liverpool failed to bounce back to winning ways on Saturday as they were held to a 0-0 draw at West Brom in a game which will probably go down as one of the worst viewing spectacles of the season.
Philippe Coutinho went close for the Reds on a couple of occasions and Jordon Ibe hit the crossbar, but despite Liverpool dominating possession there were few clear-cut chances on show and the Baggies threatened almost as many times at the opposite end.
It marks a dismal week for the Reds who have now won just two of their last five and look in danger of letting the season peter out entirely. Brendan Rodgers doesn’t have time on his side to convince plenty of the supporters, at least, that he’s the man to help revamp things in summer—so it’s with him we start as we look at five talking points from the Hawthorns bore-fest.
Brendan Rodgers’ Tactical Indecision
This is a real issue now for Liverpool. Tactical versatility and being unpredictable is not just a whim, it’s an asset for a football team—but only when it’s working. Only when it has purpose. For the Reds’ last three matches, they beat Newcastle with a 4-3-3, reverted to a 3-4-2-1 for the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Aston Villa and then went back once more to 4-3-3 to start the West Brom fixture.
There is no consistency or, seemingly, trust from Rodgers in one system being any better than the other and it’s not even a case of adapting the XI for players who are returning from injury or similar. This week’s change-arounds didn’t have the desired impact and, really, there can’t be much excuse for the low tempo of the performance, given the time on the ball Liverpool’s players had.
Rodgers’ constant switching of tactics also leaves the summer transfer window in limbo, as it’s nearly impossible to predict what type of players Liverpool need without knowing the shape they’ll take.
The boss would probably be wise to now stick with the 4-3-3 for the rest of the season, seeing which players rise to the challenge of taking maximum points and keeping Liverpool at least in fifth…but his time at Anfield doesn’t exactly point to Rodgers doing so.
Glen Johnson: Is There a Less-Bothered Man in Football?
As if the Reds hadn’t had enough reminders over the past couple of seasons, Glen Johnson’s performance from left-back against an almost non-existent West Brom attack highlighted once more the absolute disregard he has for a place in the team, the shirt on his back and, quite possibly, the notion that anything important is going on around him at all.
Almost everything positive West Brom managed to produce in the game (yes, all three things) came down his side of the pitch, starting with an innocuous-looking long ball. Johnson mis-controlled it, failed to react and ultimately lost out to Saido Berahino, and was lucky not to see the forward head toward goal after losing possession.
Things didn’t get any better defensively as Johnson failed to stop crosses, never looked like keeping pace with those who ran past him and offered little in build-up play.
Dejan Lovren had a Decent Impact
Liverpool’s £20 million centre-back Dejan Lovren has had an awful campaign, with his best games invariably those where he sat on the bench and watched Mamadou Sakho.
Against West Brom, the Croatian put in a much more respectable performance—but it’s nothing to get carried away with. The Baggies mustered almost nothing of note until the final 10 minutes of the match, so much of Lovren’s good work was carried out under no pressure, high up the field and with recovery room behind him if anything did go wrong.
That said, it would still be churlish not to accept that the old adage remains true: you can only beat what’s in front of you. Liverpool didn’t win, but Lovren “won” his battle in denying Berahino much of a sniff of the ball, nipping in to win challenges or possession before support could come the way of the striker—and making one hugely important goalline clearance. It was certainly nothing you’d expect him to be incapable of, kicking clear a bouncing ball, but the way the season has gone for Lovren he could have sliced it into the roof of the net and nobody would have shown surprise.
Did he perform £20 million well? No. But he put in a good display, was certainly more solid than Martin Skrtel and had a nice hour or so on the pitch where all he needed to do was pass the ball back to Steven Gerrard.
Mario Balotelli: the Debate Continues
Your views on Mario Balotelli’s 70 minutes on the pitch will invariably be shaped by your views on Mario Balotelli’s entire 2014-15 season.
The Italian striker had a couple of long-range strikes, linked neatly with Jordon Ibe once or twice and dropped deep to get involved in build-up play, but also never really looked to run in behind the West Brom defence, didn’t hold up the ball inside the box and certainly never threatened Boaz Myhill.
Whether the instruction was for him to find space outside the box or not, Balotelli did it, but without runners from midfield Liverpool didn’t take advantage of the gaps he left in attack. As such, there was rarely much of a penalty box presence and the team’s failure to score a goal will inevitably see spotlight fall on the No. 45.
He wasn’t terribly sharp, but hasn’t had much football. He didn’t have a strike partner, but also lost possession too easily anyway. He didn’t score, but nobody gave him a clear chance.
How much is Balotelli’s fault, and how much is systemic of the team?
The only obvious outcome from it all is that, right now, they’re not compatible together. Your views on Mario will dictate whether you think the team needs to incorporate him better, or the Reds need to get rid.
Creativity, Flair, Ideas…Movement
Faced with a team organised and directed by Tony Pulis, Liverpool absolutely had to play with three key ingredients at the Hawthorns: Pace, width and movement.
A front three was a reasonable way to go given Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson were able to push on from midfield, but Liverpool’s play was all too slow, too predictable, too disconnected to really trouble the Baggies back line. Infrequent were the runs down the channels between full-back and centre-back, almost never were the full-backs seen on the touchline.
Everything came narrow, unless Ibe or Raheem Sterling were expected to take on three players at once on the outside, and the lack of movement and slow rate of passing was never going to break the home side down. Whether it was the come-down after the cup exit or an end-of-season match that Liverpool just couldn’t up the tempo of, a 0-0 draw looked on the cards almost from the opening 10 minutes.
It was poor fair all round and it’s back to the drawing board for Rodgers.