Liverpool’s defeat to Man United on Sunday was another infuriating game for Reds supporters, and once again highlighted how soft goals continue to be their downfall at both ends of the pitch.
Has there been a more frustrating time to be a Liverpool fan in the Premier League era?
Sunday’s undeserved loss to their most bitter rivals was yet another 90 minutes that left you scratching your head in bemusement, as a decent performance failed to be rewarded with three points.
The manner of the defeat was all too familiar, in terms of what we have witnessed so far this season, with the same old deficiencies coming back to haunt Jurgen Klopp and his side.
A soft goal again sent everyone associated with the Reds home miserable, and an inability to nick a sloppy goal of their own was again nowhere to be seen.
It makes for rather depressing reading in many ways, but 2015/16 has been littered with endless soft, avoidable goals conceded by Liverpool.
The first league goals of the season that the Reds let in came in the horrendous 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham in late August, and were all insipid.
Manuel Lanzini stole in after Joe Gomez switched off at the back post, Dejan Lovren endured a nightmare to gift Mark Noble a second and Diafra Sakho was allowed far too much time by Martin Skrtel before finishing clinically.
United were up next at Old Trafford, and as has often been the case this season, Liverpool played well for large chunks of the game but came a cropper in their defensive third.
Daley Blind was left unmarked to fire Louis van Gaal’s side in front, Gomez gave away a needless penalty and Anthony Martial was made to look like Pele following a pathetic attempt at a tackle from Skrtel.
Norwich’s Russell Martin earned his side a point at Anfield, with the much-maligned Simon Mignolet failing to deal with a corner, while Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho both allowed Rudi Gestede to ghost in and score in the 3-2 victory over Aston Villa.
The Merseyside derby at Goodison Park was the next league game to display Liverpool’s frailties at the back, as Can’s woeful clearance fell straight to Romelu Lukaku, who levelled the scores.
Sadio Mane‘s soft late equaliser for Southampton was one of seven league goals conceded from set-pieces so far this season, and robbed Klopp’s men of two much-needed points.
The 4-1 triumph away to Man City was glorious, but even Sergio Aguero’s consolation goal was avoidable, following a risky pass from Nathaniel Clyne, a poor clearance from Skrtel and Lucas Leiva‘s failure to shut down the world-class Argentine.
Skrtel’s own goal at Newcastle was sloppy, if a little unfortunate, while West Brom earned a 2-2 draw on Merseyside because of Mignolet gifting Craig Dawson a close-range effort and Jonas Olsson scoring a late header from another corner.
Watford and West Ham both humbled Liverpool on their own turf, 3-0 and 2-0 respectively, and whether it be Adam Bogdan dropping a corner, Skrtel being bullied by Odion Ighalo or Michail Antonio nipping in behind Clyne, the majority of the goals conceded left you bewildered.
The Reds outplayed Arsenal and United for large chunks, in their most recent matches, but infuriatingly had to settle for just one point over the two games.
Aaron Ramsey’s goal should have been kept out by Mignolet, while the Belgian and Adam Lallana inexcusably allowed Olivier Giroud to score from a near-post corner.
Even Giroud’s second of the game, brilliantly taken though it was, saw Liverpool fail to clear the ball and James Milner needlessly commit himself in midfield prior to the goal.
Then, of course, there was Rooney’s winner. Ibe failed to shut down a short corner, Maroune Fellaini hit the crossbar with a header and the unmarked England captain reacted quicker than any defender to fire past a positionally-questionable Mignolet.
The above goals have all come in the Premier League, but there are still numerous other examples of soft efforts that have been surrendered in cup competitions.
Bogdan all but ended his Liverpool career with a horrific mistake against Exeter City, and should also have done better for Derek Asamoah’s goal for Carlisle United in the League Cup.
Moreno switched off in the first minute in the eventual 6-1 mauling of Southampton, with Mane heading home, while Mignolet’s ridiculous decision to hold onto the ball for 20 seconds against Bordeaux helped gift the French side an early lead at Anfield in the Europa League.
Of the 36 goals that the Reds have let in this season, in all competitions, there is a genuine case to say that approximately 26 have been soft. That is astounding, and must be addressed.
Wonder goals or nothing
What makes this all far more irritating is the fact that Liverpool seem to have to work really hard for goals of their own.
That is partly due to inept finishing when gifted chances, but the opposition just do not appear to handout such careless goals.
Just look at the opening day of the campaign, when Philippe Coutinho‘s late stunner nicked a dramatic win for then manager Brendan Rodgers. It set a pattern for the five months or so that have followed.
Christian Benteke was admittedly gifted an offside goal against Bournemouth, although that was all to do with awful officiating than poor defending, and the striker then scored a sensational overhead kick to give his side hope away to United.
An inch-perfect Milner strike from range, and an emphatic double from Daniel Sturridge, were needed to get past a shocking Villa team, while two 20-yard strikes from Coutinho inspired Liverpool to victory at Chelsea.
The aforementioned thrashing of City may have seen an fortunate own goal from Eliaquim Mangala, but two stunning team efforts and a Skrtel scorcher were still required to take the game away from Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Divock Origi‘s deflected late equaliser against West Brom and Benteke’s solitary goal at Sunderland, via a fluke of a pass from Lallana, were more lucky than soft.
Roberto Firmino‘s lethal double against Arsenal were yet more examples of quality goals, while even Joe Allen’s leveller was a classy effort.
This constant necessity for scoring top class goals hasn’t been the case week in, week out, it must be stressed – Danny Ings‘ header at Everton was very soft, as an example – but on the whole, Liverpool have really not found the net cheaply on many occasions.
As mentioned, better finishing would probably affect this argument a little – teams have made errors in which the Reds have failed to capitalise – but it is hard to think of many avoidable goals scored.
Things must change
Much as it may be painful to admit it, Liverpool have become one of the softest teams in the Premier League currently.
Opposition managers, players and supporters must relish the thought of playing them, safe in the knowledge that they will be gifted a goal and likely only concede from a piece of undefendable magic.
Praise is deserved for scoring such eye-catching strikes, but how many long-range efforts end up in the stands? This is largely to do with a failure to break teams down and be presented with soft goals.
Klopp’s side are extremely flawed, and the German will be well aware that drastic changes are needed come the end of the season.
There was a depressing inevitability about Rooney’s goal on Sunday, and we were left with that same sinking feeling that has no doubt been nestled within many of us all season long.
Being a good side in only the middle third of the pitch is simply not good enough, and bringing in intelligent, reliable, ruthless players at both ends is priority number one this summer.