Adebayor 68' 90+3'
Unlike last week's loss, today held absolutely zero grasping-at-straws positives. An unhelpful, card-happy referee was the least of Liverpool's concerns. Nothing went right. No one played well. Tottenham won at a canter; a four-goal scoreline barely flatters an insipid opposition.
The starting formation, more a 4-3-3 than any other match this season, means next to nothing other than in gifting Tottenham the early initiative; it lasted less than 10 minutes. Spurs started exactly as Spurs started in last May's 0-2 loss at Anfield: running at Liverpool defenders, getting the early goal requiring Liverpool to chase the game. 'Arry's "just get out there and get at them" actually worked a treat. Again. I truly hate when that happens. And how often it seems to happen.
Modric and Parker won the midfield battle just as Modric and Sandro won it four months ago. Liverpool may have had numerical superiority, but it was confused numerical superiority – Adam ahead of Lucas and Henderson for the first time this season, leading to increased positional indiscipline from the former Blackpool man, which would soon sign Liverpool's death warrant. But that midfield superiority was also a moot point because of how quickly Spurs realized Liverpool's biggest weakness – a makeshift center-back on the right, up against a speed merchant in Welsh Jesus. No one saw that coming.
It was a mix-up on the opposite flank which should have seen Spurs' opener within three minutes: Lucas and Agger got in each other's way on Friedel's punt and Kranjcar easily held off Enrique, setting up Adebayor who somehow missed from 15 yards. They'd be ahead soon enough. Bale, after twice beating Skrtel down Liverpool's right in the first six minutes, set up Defoe when in acres of space – Skrtel sucked inside, as center-backs often are – who luckily set up Modric's brilliant, unstoppable 25-yard rocket.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Liverpool still haven't won after going behind under Dalglish, and those early tactical errors compounded Liverpool's problems quickly. Shit rolls downhill, and it was rolling at light speed today. Liverpool somewhat settled by shifting to the 4-2-2-2, with Henderson right, Downing left, and Suarez and Carroll up front, but the early indiscipline and the referee's desire to fondle his cards at the first opportunity made a comeback impossible. Adam picked up his first booking in the 12th and his second in the 28th. Mike Jones can't be blamed for either. Last summer, Noel presciently wrote about gambling on the good Charlie Adam. Five games in, and that gamble's failed more often than it's succeeded. A minute before the sending off, Agger had to go off, replaced by Sebastian Coates. Sod's law displayed in its full, horrific glory.
Honestly, Liverpool did well not to concede for 40 more minutes. Granted, not having a shot on goal in the meantime isn't a pleasant stat, but down to 10 men and unable to do anything right, Spurs really should have extended their lead sooner. The rest of the half saw few chances for either side, but included yellows for Skrtel and Coates for their first fouls respectively and one for Suarez for typical petulant dissent. That'd unsurprisingly also come back to haunt Liverpool.
Liverpool made no changes during the interval, and the pattern of play continued in the same vein. Then Skrtel picked up his second yellow; a second dismissal was inevitable – it was a race between him and Suarez to see who'd get there first. After that, it was choose-your-own-scoreline for the home side. Like the last time Liverpool had two men sent off – at Fulham two years ago – more goals were always coming with 11 men against a flailing nine, and it took Spurs five minutes to get two more, before Liverpool were ready to make any substitutions.
Defoe, onside (thanks Carra) and with the freedom of North London, held off and turned Enrique before firing under Reina. A minute or so later, Liverpool's usually reliable keeper fumbled Defoe's long-range shot (given space by, again, Carra) into Adebayor's path for an easy home debut goal. With 10 men and with Spurs failing to get a second, Liverpool had a whisper of hope. With nine men and conceding twice in quick succession, more open than a exhibitionist's trenchcoat, the game was dead and buried without a proper funeral. Just dumped into a shallow, half-dug pit in a junkyard. Which was about as much as it deserved.
From there, it was solely damage control, aided by Spurs' mercy in keeping the ball without much desire to embarrass. Bellamy and Spearing replaced Downing and Suarez, both starters protected rather than any tactical change to ease the pain. Spurs finally got a fourth in the dregs of injury time when Coates left Adebayor open and Carragher (a-fucking-gain) played him onside. You're always fighting a losing battle with nine men, but shambolic defending on the three subsequent goals, usually from Liverpool's stalwart, legendary stand-in captain, adds to this apex of embarrassment.
Today was as bad as any loss we saw under Hodgson. No one saw that coming. The main difference is that under the previous manager, Liverpool usually lost because they invited the opposition onto them, allowing their opponents to dictate play and tempo. Today, Liverpool lost because they were too ambitious in believing that an attacking, open 4-3-3 could take the game to Tottenham and that Skrtel could contain Bale and Assou-Ekotto. We can pretend losing with ambition is slightly more encouraging, but a trip to the woodshed is a trip to the woodshed, no matter how you're dragged there. Of course, I still know who I'd prefer, and although this disclaimer shouldn't be necessary, criticizing choices isn't criticizing Dalglish. Everyone can and should learn from this. Unlike the last days of Benitez and the entirety of Hodgson, the sky isn't falling quite yet.
Picking out one or two scapegoats after that abortion is an impossibility. Absolutely every decision was the wrong one, every player made mistakes, tactics were wretched, early cards set the tone, and Spurs gleefully took advantage of every single gift.
Carroll will be a favored target – Liverpool still haven't played well when he's started aside from City last season and this campaign's win at Arsenal (earned after he went off) – but he's low on the list of my concerns. Adam's decision-making was horrific. Skrtel at right back was the wrong choice no matter how poorly Flanagan did against Sunderland or Exeter. Henderson ran around headlessly, Downing and Suarez were irrelevant, Enrique was surprisingly poor, and even Lucas disappointed repeatedly. The full set; apologies if I've missed anyone. The tactics allowed Spurs to set the tone, and the yellow cards gave them more momentum. Again, all cards were earned though, harshly or not.
There are two infinitesimal consolations. One, other than on Spurs' final goal, Coates did fine, although notably lacking in pace as advertised. Two, Liverpool now have three of its six hardest away games out of the way after just five matches, with one win and two losses. Not that it's an incredibly warming fact, but that's still better than the comparable results from the previous two campaigns.
This cannot live long in the memory. Last week was unduly harsh. This was deserved. Wholly deserved. All it's good for is as motivation: a definitive nadir and lesson in what not to do for both players and management. A difficult trip to Brighton follows on Wednesday before rebooting the league campaign against Wolves this weekend.