A Poor Start to Vital Month

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By @MatthewCotton3

“Shambles” is one of the kindest words used to describe Liverpool’s display against Hull City as the Reds slipped up in their quest for a Champions League place.

Bearing in mind December is always a crucial month in the English football season, with lots of games in quick succession, the fixture list threw up some very difficult games, with trips to Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea on the immediate horizon. The last thing that Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool needed was the news that Daniel Sturridge had rolled his ankle and would miss this month, and a lot of January.

What else Liverpool didn’t need was a very poor performance as Liverpool left Kingston upon Hull with everything their performance merited: nothing.

It wasn’t ever going to be an easy game, with Hull City being a newly promoted side and having made a steady start to the season. Their fans would also have been up for it, with the controversy over their proposed, and utterly insane, name change (I do hope that they stay as Hull City AFC), and the fact that one of the Premier League’s big guns were coming to town.

Liverpool however really didn’t help themselves, giving the ball away cheaply on too many occasions.

With such a tough schedule coming up, rotation and harnessing all the members of his squad is important. Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses were brought in after spells in the cold, but neither covered themselves in glory. Sterling hasn’t been the first name on the teamsheet like he was this time last year, and it showed at times today. Moses put in a performance that perfectly encapsulated why Chelsea were so keen to let him go out on loan in the summer.

Moses must take responsibility for the first goal Hull scored, from Jake Livermore. After Liverpool cleared a corner, Moses then lost the ball in a dangerous area, and before one could say “Hot Cheese on Toast,” Livermore had exchanged passes with David Meyler, and had released a 25-yard shot which went into the net via a deflection off Martin Skrtel, who would later score an own goal to seal a deserved three points for Hull.

Liverpool really struggled to get going, playing too many long balls from the back. The best ball playing defenders at the club, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho were on the bench, and if Liverpool want to build  their play from the back, one of these two must play, but there is no stability in that defence, but I’ll come onto that later.
In fact, when Liverpool equalised, it was their first shot, which is testament to this and Hull City’s very good organisation.

Jordan Henderson showed great tenacity to maraud forward and win a free-kick in a dangerous area. I thought Luis Suarez was going to take it, given that he scored a very good free-kick last week in the Derby, but Steven Gerrard took it and found the bottom corner.

It was a very good free kick, but it doesn’t mask the fact that Gerrard has been highly inconsistent this season. Yet he managed to dig Liverpool out of a very difficult situation, and at that point I was expecting Liverpool to seize the initiative and try and push on. Yet a goal before half time didn’t materialise.

At half-time, I was expecting Rodgers to change it up. Philippe Coutinho was on the bench, as was Iago Aspas, both of whom have been injured, and I was expecting Moses and Sterling to come off. When this didn’t happen, I began to think that Hull City would have had a chance if they wanted it.
Liverpool had a chance through Suarez, whose shot from an angle was saved by Hull City keeper Allan McGregor. Suarez was anonymous, but that was through no fault of his own: the tactics Rodgers was playing meant that he had absolutely no support and he had to try and do everything on his own. I thought even bringing on Aspas would have been a positive and necessary move.

Chances came and went for both sides. Hull City’s Curtis Davies headed just wide, while Moses’ close range block was bravely blocked by McGregor. By then, Rodgers had brought Coutinho on, which tried to spark Liverpool’s spluttering attack into life, but there was nothing there, and Hull retook the lead after Liverpool couldn’t clear in their own box, Meyler arrowed a shot into the bottom corner.

Liverpool’s centre back pairing didn’t have the best of games, and Rodgers must surely be tempted to change it for the upcoming games. Kolo Toure, back in the team after a spell out, was particularly poor today. Skrtel was OK I think, but Flanagan was probably the pick of Liverpool’s defenders – but that unfortunately says little. Glen Johnson had an afternoon to forget once again, with the right back giving the ball away too cheaply on numerous occasions.

Liverpool fell behind again, and were expected to go for it, but a Suarez free kick was closest they came, going wide with McGregor going close. But Hull found themselves one-on-one and eventually finished the game off, with a Skrtel own goal.

Rodgers has to take a lot of the blame for today’s result. I could see at half time that things needed to change because it was too pedestrian and Suarez was so isolated. Yet he didn’t and it cost Liverpool. I also wish he would keep the centre back pairing consistent because that is an area of the team that needs to be as stable as possible. Unfortunately, now Rodgers might have to change it again. He needs to find a stable starting defensive partnership, because Liverpool’s defensive statistics make for unpleasant reading: one clean sheet in the last 10 games, which isn’t good enough for a team with aspirations of playing in the Champions League next season.

Sadly, when I saw the news that Sturridge left Melwood on crutches, I had kind of expected this to happen. It’s great that Liverpool have the “SaS” but it’s a double-edged sword. It’s great that they are scoring goals, but there could have been an over-reliance on Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, who have both scored nine goals this season. And so it proved, as Liverpool looked hopeless without Sturridge. Suarez was isolated and needed support, but apart from Aspas, Liverpool do not have anyone else to support Suarez. That may be why I disagreed with the decision to let Andy Carroll leave for West Ham United, even though he’s injured at the minute. He would have offered a Plan B to Liverpool, which is something that is needed desperately. Liverpool have drawn twice and lost three times in the 5 league matches in which they conceded the first goal. Liverpool don’t have a Plan B, and that may also be detrimental to their top four hopes.

Liverpool’s midfield also looked off the pace. Liverpool desperately needed additions to provide solidity and competition for Lucas. They didn’t add to their midfield options, and this becomes critical in January’s transfer window – along with a winger, a left back, and a centre forward. Henderson shows athleticism, but was played in the No.10 position today, which is not his natural position.

This result is a massive blow. It doesn’t fill anyone with confidence going into the latter stages of December, with trips to Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea coming up. This is also a crucial month, and Liverpool need to pick up as many points as possible to keep themselves in touching distance of the top four.

One positive, and there are few, is that Liverpool are yet to lose back-to-back league games under Brendan Rodgers in the 17 months he’s been manager. Liverpool’s next game is at home to Norwich City on Wednesday, which is an absolute must-win game now, if it wasn’t already. Anfield also plays host to West Ham United and Cardiff City this month.

The reason it becomes must win is as Liverpool’s place in the top four is not as solid as it was at the start of the weekend. Every dropped point is vital, and if Liverpool drop too many points, at the end of the season the ramifications for the futures of Suarez, Coutinho and especially Rodgers could be huge.

There’s been talk of Rodgers getting a new 5-year contract extension to replace the one that expires at the end of next season. I find this astounding, as although he is trying to implement a philosophy which looks good on the eye, I’d much rather these discussions were happening at the end of the season, when we’ve found out if Liverpool will be playing in Europe next season.

This month will tell us a lot more about whether Liverpool will be playing in the Champions League next season. However, this month has gone off to an absolutely dreadful start, and there is no getting away from that.