They say a week is a long time in football, and never has the phrase been more applicable than when describing the past seven days on Merseyside. Last Sunday evening fans left Anfield excited about the future after watching Liverpool completely outplay the defending Premiership Champions; a week later, they left feeling like the same old thing was happening again.
The debacle that was Liverpool’s deadline day transfer activity (or lack thereof) left fans extremely frustrated and questioning the ambition of Fenway Sports Group, the club’s principal owners. FSG refused to release the funds to allow Brendan Rodgers to sign Clint Dempsey – they would not sanction a £6m bid, refusing to bid above £4m for the American - and the playing squad was subsequently left short of quality – something that, last summer aside, seems to be a continuous cycle at Anfield.
Fans were rightly furious that the club, already short of attacking options, allowed Andy Carroll to leave on loan to West Ham and then failed to sign a suitable replacement. It was no surprise, then, that against Arsenal there were no attacking options on the bench for Liverpool (well Stewart Downing was on it, but he doesn’t really count, does he?)
Ah, yes, the Arsenal game. After all the drama that had preceded it, the game against Arsenal felt like something of an afterthought - yet this was a chance for the team to show that they didn’t need any new signings and could build on the performance. Instead, their impotent performance merely served as further evidence that Liverpool’s failure to sign a reliable goalscorer over the summer may very well cost them dearly in their bid to finish in the top four this season.
Liverpool were let down by their best players. Luis Suarez had one of his worst games in a red shirt, constantly giving the ball away and failing to have much impact on the game. Fabio Borini was anonymous throughout, and has struggled when played out wide, but he is a striker, and Rodgers continues to do his new signing no favours by deploying him in a role that doesn’t suit his strengths.
Liverpool were let down by their best players. Luis Suarez had one of his worst games in a red shirt, constantly giving the ball away and failing to have much impact on the game.
Unfortunately, things weren’t much better at the other end of the pitch. Pepe Reina made yet another howler – but this is nothing new: the Spaniards form has been getting progressively worse over the last two years, and had this been any outfield player his place in the side would have been under serious threat.
As it stands, though, neither Alexander Doni nor Brad Jones are of sufficient quality to really push Reina for a starting place. Whether it’s complacency that has crept in or just that he’s not as good as he once was, Pepe’s form gives Brendan Rodgers another unwanted problem to solve over the coming months.
Many cite the departure of Xavi Valero, the goalkeeping coach of Rafa Benitez’s tenure, as the catalyst for Reina’s demise - and there is certainly some element of truth to that argument. Pepe, and also more surprisingly Fernando Torres, would regularly praise Valero as playing a key role in their form being so impressive; he was so meticulous in his work that he’d give Torres advice on the weaknesses of opposition ‘keepers.
When Benitez left, Valero did too, and his replacement was Mike Kelly, Roy Hodgson’s trusted colleague whose methods were outdated. When Kelly left, John Achtenberg, ex-Tranmere goalkeeper who was coaching the reserve ‘keepers, was promoted to the first-team setup, but he has not added anything particularly helpful to the backroom setup.
Joe Allen was again outstanding, and the Welsh midfielder has become the heartbeat of the Reds midfield.
Steven Gerrard pushed Reina hard for the title of Liverpool’s worst performer. He was sloppy in possession, often trying the Hollywood ball when the simpler option was on, and gave the ball away on a worrying number of occasions. There is genuine concern that he can no longer play two games in a week; he was excellent against Man City, but average against Hearts and woeful against Arsenal.
There were still a few positives for Liverpool fans, however. Joe Allen was again outstanding, and the Welsh midfielder has become the heartbeat of the Reds midfield. He used the ball well, worked hard and has fitted seamlessly in to the side. It is easy to say why Rodgers was desperate to bring him to Anfield and had no qualms spending £15m to do so.
The more Raheem Sterling plays the more he looks like he belongs on the big stage, and this was his best performance yet; he was more confident in possession and looked dangerous every time he ran at the Arsenal defence, linking up well with his teammates and winning a few free-kicks in dangerous positions. He put in a good shift defensively, too, showing great tenacity to win the ball back on several occasions and helping Jose Enrique out when necessary.
On the whole Liverpool can have no complaints that they lost - but Arsenal didn't have to do much to secure the win, which is becoming a regular occurence for whoever they play these days. They merely capitalised on individual errors and defended well.
Still, trying to extrapolate anything from three league games is utterly ridiculous. Patience is a rare commodity in modern day football, but that is exactly what is needed here. Brendan Rodgers has had to try and transform the squad in one summer on a restricted budget, and has seen eight first-team players leave and only four arrive. This was just a really bad day at the office. Liverpool will struggle to play as badly as this again, but the more he works with the squad the better they will get.
You can follow Alex on twitter @woolfc
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