Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Gerrard Lucas Kuyt
So much for at least being reliably decent at Anfield...
Wolves dominated every phase of the game and deserved their win. And this is a side that hadn't won away all season long. Liverpool were passive, rusty, uncoordinated, and tactically bereft. Gerrard's return completely unbalanced the midfield, exacerbated by playing both Kuyt and Meireles in unfamiliar positions on the flanks. Wolves' determined pressing, man-marking from top to bottom and holding a high back-line, prompted the dreaded 'hoofing' syndrome. And the malady was worse than usual: the center-backs consistently returned the ball to Reina, whose punt forward was quickly reclaimed by the visitors. Embarrassingly simplistic and submissive, playing directly into Wolves' hands and increasingly demoralizing the players; Torres was full-on sulk by the end of the match, and it's hard to blame him.
Liverpool may have had the better chances in the first half – had Meireles converted Torres' quick free kick in the 7th, it might have been a completely different game, while Walton could have given a penalty when Kyrgiakos was hauled down on a corner in the 39th – but Wolves were the only cohesive side. Tactically, Liverpool were lost, and it's no coincidence that both of the aforementioned "chances" came on set plays.
Soon into the second half, Wolves made Liverpool pay for its incompetence, taking advantage of the inevitable defensive mistake. Kyrgiakos couldn't clear, conceding possession to Ebanks-Blake, who found Ward with a throughball when Skrtel didn't track the makeshift striker. One-on-one with Reina, the man sent off in last season's meeting at Anfield scored the lone goal of this terrible performance.
Liverpool brought on Babel, Cole, and Aurelio in their attempt to create some palpable offense, but none came. The side remained mired in insipid nothingness with zero cohesion in attack. Back-passes, hoofs, and lost possession remained the overriding themes. Cole ended up more a central midfielder than the actual central midfielder he replaced. Clueless doesn't even come close to summarizing, but that moment coupled with Gerrard – Liverpool's rescuer time and time again – spraying balls from the center circle instead of joining the attack as the game escaped reach demonstrates the unsuitability of the so-called plan.
Wolves continued to press after scoring the opener instead of retreating into their own half, recognizing Liverpool's utter impotence. Skrtel's "goal" ruled out in the 88th, caught offside by Wolves' trap, is about all there is to "highlight," and it wasn't even close to controversial. And again, the chance came on a set piece arguably against the run of play.
That the players were obviously rusty after the long layoff and few, if any, can escape condemnation shouldn't obscure the fact that the loss is down to the manager. I've been calling for his head since October, so whatever I say is taken with a rightful grain of salt, but I can't see how he survives this. The tactics are down to the manager. The antiquated formation and playing players out of position are down to the manager. The team's utter lack of both ambition and confidence is down to the manager.
NESV clearly don't want to be rushed into a decision. They're on a steep learning curve as it is, Comolli's only recently in place, and a CEO still hasn't been found. Hodgson only had to tread water for this season to be a wash, and they could hire their man for the future on their own terms.
But that's clearly not going to work. After 18 games, nearly half the season, Liverpool are 12th, with a negative goal difference and only three points above the relegation zone. It's a historically bad total. Liverpool's home form was the lone safeguard, having "righted the ship" after the demoralizing loss to Blackpool, unbeaten at Anfield since the beginning of October. But then they go and lose to the 20th-placed side while displaying all the awful characteristics of the worst away performances.
With the table so tight, we'd been hoping for a good run to push the side up towards the European places, but on this form, a losing run back to the bottom three – where Liverpool sat less than three months ago – looks far more likely. The change has to be made now.