Upsets have been commonly associated with Liverpool over the course of the last three seasons but few could have predicted the scoreline at The Hawthorns which saw Liverpool handed their worst start in their Premier League history. Indeed, were it not for the excellent Pepe Reina in goal the scoreline could have been even more embarrassing! Liverpool face one of the toughest starts this season with fixtures against both Manchester clubs and Arsenal within the first five games.The Reds were thus looking to get off to a winning start in order to ease the pressure of victory against tougher opposition.
West Bromwich Albion lined up in a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long as the starting forwards. Liverpool chose to stick to the 4-3-3 formation they had been playing in pre-season. Joe Allen and Fabio Borini were handed Premier League debuts while a knock to Jose Enrique meant that Glen Johnson took his place in the line-up at left full-back.
Playing on a pristine surface, The Baggies began brightly with Liverpool hardly seeing any of the ball during the first couple of minutes. It was evident from the start that Steve Clark had set out his side to play good football and Liverpool would have a tough job on their hands.
After the first few minutes Liverpool looked to settle into their passing rhythm. The game was a cagey affair with few clear cut chances. The midfield was keenly contested with both teams pressing hard without the ball. Mulumbu and Yacob had excellent games and didn’t allow the Liverpool midfield to dominate. Joe Allen had a good debut and kept things ticking smartly. Lucas, however looked a little off colour coming back from injury and it will still be some time before he finds his full form and fitness. Steven Gerrard had one of his worst days in a Liverpool shirt and looked largely unsure of his position at attacking midfield. The Liverpool captain is famous for being an impact player but he was largely anonymous on the day. He offered very little in attack and didn’t have a telling attacking contribution in the whole game.
Liverpool enjoyed the majority of possession but were unable to find an opening past the stubborn West Brom defence. Brendan Rodgers emphasized a patient build-up play but The Reds often found themselves trying to force the issue. Downing and Borini offered little threat down the wings and thus Luis Suarez found himself burdened with both creating as well as finishing the goal-scoring opportunities. The Uruguayan was lively throughout the first half and looked threatening on a couple of occasions. Liverpool’s build up play lacked an end product. But three wasted chances including an excellent headed opportunity for Suarez meant that the game was still at an even keel.
Profligacy in front of goal had been Liverpool’s bane last season and it once again proved to be so at the start of this one. Having missed opportunities at the other end, The Reds found themselves a goal down two minutes before half time thanks to a stunning volley from 25 yards by Zoltan Gera.
Liverpool focussed on maintaining possession after the restart but found themselves vulnerable on the counter-attack. Shane Long had an excellent game and tormented Liverpool’s back line. At 58 minutes, the striker used his pace to latch on to a through ball before being brought down on the box by Daniel Agger. The referee decided to award a penalty and sent off the Liverpool center back. The decision proved to be a harsh one as replays showed minimal contact between the players.
Shane Long stepped up to double West Brom’s lead but Pepe Reina guessed right and comfortably stopped Long’s tame effort. Jamie Carragher was introduced for Stewart Downing to shore up Liverpool’s defense. Liverpool tried to keep possession despite being down to 10 men but conceded another penalty minutes later. Martin Skrtel was the guilty party on this occasion although replays once again suggested that Shane Long may have gone down too easily inside the box. Peter Odemwingie stepped up to take the penalty this time and made no mistake in burying it past a despairing Pepe Reina.
Liverpool were well and truly up against it and Brendan Rodgers decided to take Lucas off for Joe Cole. The former Chelsea player barely had a touch of the ball before limping out injured due to a recurrence of a hamstring injury. Andy Carroll took his place but failed to have any impact on the game. Liverpool meanwhile, continued to spurn goal scoring chances. Suarez had another excellent opportunity to score from a Borini cross but it was not the Liverpool No. 7’s night.
West Bromwich Albion on the other hand were resolute in defence and were happy to play on the counter attack. Steve Clark introduced Lukaku and Fortune and both players had a positive impact on the game. Fortune and Morrison exploited the space offered by a tiring Liverpool and both came close to scoring. Lukaku finally put the game to bed with an excellent header at 77 minutes. The remaining minutes saw a hapless Liverpool being run ragged by The Baggies who seemed to be enjoying the brand of football played under their new manager.
In many ways the match encapsulated everything that is wrong with Liverpool FC on the pitch. Last season under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool flattered to deceive on several occasions. The Reds could not break down lesser opposition despite enjoying a majority of the possession and enjoying a host of goal scoring opportunities. The team often capitulated when the chips were down and barring a couple of players, nobody shouldered responsibility and showed the drive to turn things around and win. Contrast that to championship winning teams like Manchester City who scored two goals in stoppage time to win the League title. The dawn shows the day and there are signs that Liverpool are not quite there to be challenging for the top 4 spots yet.
In his post-match interview Rodgers commented “There is a big job to do & we will have more days like this (WBA) along the way. That is the reality of it.” While there is truth to the statement and it is just the start of the season, Rodgers must have a serious look at the mentality of some players if he is to mount a serious challenge for the top spot in the future.
Recent title winning sides like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have all displayed great fighting spirit in dire situations to come out on top. Too many players in the current Liverpool side allow their shoulders to drop quickly if things are not going according to plan. Rodgers must carefully analyse which players are ready to fight for the shirt and pick his squad accordingly. Days like the one at The Hawthorns would become rather commonplace otherwise.