That was abysmal. Absolutely abysmal.
You name it, it was not good. Individual players? Yep, especially Gerrard, but pretty much all involved in all facets. Tactics? Most definitely, especially starting two center-backs at full-back. The referee? Sure, why not; Liverpool should have gotten a first half penalty, which could well have made this a very different game, but it's not as if that Liverpool performance merited any points.
We hadn't seen Liverpool play that badly since, well, Liverpool last played Southampton. Hmm. Maybe that's not a coincidence.
Once again, no first half goal, then no Liverpool goal. As Dan Kennett astutely noted at halftime, Liverpool won just one of eight matches last season when 0-0 at the break, drawing five and losing twice, the only victory at Anfield against relegated Wigan.
Like against Stoke, Villa, United, and Swansea, Liverpool rarely if ever – maybe once – looked capable of scoring in the second half. Unlike in the first three matches, Liverpool needed to score because unlike in the first four matches, Liverpool wholly failed to score in the first half.
I've often defended Rodgers' decisions after disappointing results. Not today. Yes, the selection was partly forced by injuries, including needing to manage Jose Enrique's time on the pitch because of this week's three fixtures. The only possible explanation for starting a back four full of center-backs was to try to cancel out Southampton's aerial ability, especially on set plays, and the final score proves how well that worked out.
Sakho and Toure added nothing in attack. Nothing. And with Liverpool marginally better than Southampton in the first half, Liverpool desperately needed the help that Johnson and Enrique can add in attack, despite each's flaws. This is what Sakho and Toure contributed before Rodgers finally began to reconfigure the defense. Three, maybe four, passes in dangerous positions, out of the 57 played by the two defenders. Ugh. In retrospect, Kelly or Henderson would have been much better options, which Rodgers ultimately realized with his second half substitutions. Agger, still carrying the knock which kept him out last week but not apparently making it worse, was replaced by Enrique in the 57th, then Skrtel by Luis Alberto in the 72nd, as Liverpool's two starting full-backs shifted to center-back as Liverpool chased the game. I'd like to know the last time a team withdrew its two center-backs when neither picked up an injury.
With Sterling also replacing Aspas at halftime, Liverpool continued to try to put increasing pressure on Southampton's goal. "Try" being the key word; "succeeding" being a word that's completely inappropriate. But thanks to incorrect decisions, heavy touches, and a couple of excellent stops by Southampton defenders, Liverpool didn't look likely to find the equalizer, more frustrated and impatient than fluent and threatening as the clock wound down. Other than Liverpool's 33rd minute penalty shout, when Sturridge was clearly felled by Lovren at the top of the box, Liverpool were mostly limited to shots from distance, the best being two free kicks from Gerrard saved by Boruc.
Every team in the league knows to press Liverpool in its defensive third – we are going to see similar time and time again this season, and Rodgers needs to teach his team to adjust – and Southampton are already one of the best in the division at doing so. Closing down from Southampton's front four forced Mignolet to try to pass it long far too often, and he completed just three of 20 attempted long passes. 17 times Liverpool lost possession, 17 times that Liverpool had to retreat and regroup. But even though I'll criticize Mignolet's passing, it's worth remembering that Liverpool would probably have five points rather than 10 without the Belgian, most likely drawing with Stoke and Villa and losing to Swansea.
Liverpool were broken in attack with Suarez, Coutinho, and both starting full-backs absent and Liverpool were broken at the back because of changes to the defense and Southampton's pressing. That pressing, combined with some jaw-dropping Liverpool decision-making, is also what resulted in Southampton's winner.
Make no mistake, the away side wasn't incredibly inspiring either. They certainly were nowhere near as coherent as the side Liverpool lost to in March, although that was admittedly at St Mary's rather than Anfield. On the whole, Liverpool mostly contained Southampton, although Mignolet had to make three brilliant saves in quick succession to keep the scoreline at 0-1. But that containment totally broke down once, and it was entirely of Liverpool's own making. Unable to pass the ball out of defense, Skrtel stupidly conceded possession when trying to turn into space that wasn't there. Southampton quickly won a corner, and Lovren eluded Agger far too cheaply to head in Lallana's delivery, with Gerrard unable to clear from the goal line.
Southampton's three previous goals this season had come from two set plays and a penalty, so its not as if Liverpool were caught unaware. Liverpool just couldn't cope once, failing on just one of Southampton's 12 set plays. But once was enough to drop all three points.
No one gets away without censure, Rodgers most of all for tactical and personnel decisions, even if the substitutions made a certain amount of sense. But Liverpool were also let down by individual players, none more than Liverpool's captain. As against Swansea, Liverpool's midfield simply failed to function, despite having the edge in possession. That Gerrard and Lucas were outnumbered against Swansea partly excuses Monday's performance. There's far less of an excuse today. It's heresy, but Liverpool's captain needs a game off. We need to see if Henderson/Lucas or Allen/Lucas can form a more effective pairing because this pairing has been closer to the opposite of effective.
Gerrard's dismal performance was most notable because he's Gerrard; he's saved Liverpool time and time and time again, and it's still surprising when he hinders more than he helps. It's not as if anyone besides Mignolet and maybe Lucas come away with few complaints and glares in their general direction. Skrtel Skrtel-ing ultimately led to the first goal, Agger was beaten too easily on the set play, both Toure and Sakho demonstrated that they're not fullbacks. Moses looked Liverpool's most dangerous attacker – similar to being named the handsomest man in Stoke – but both he and Sturridge lost possession in attack too often, were caught offside too often, made the wrong decision to pass or shoot the few times they almost broke through too often. Aspas was irrelevant again, but Henderson was little better when used centrally before Luis Alberto came on.
Like against Swansea, this should be a wake-up call. The law of averages obviously had to set in sooner or later, and it's been sooner. Liverpool were never going to hold on to fortunate 1-0 wins in every match. Despite the disconnect at both ends of the pitch, despite the multiple changes in personnel, this was still marginally more like last season's side than the possession-conceding, deep-sitting side was saw in the second half of the first three fixtures and almost all of Monday's match.
But it still needs to improve, dramatically, in almost all aspects of its play. Relying on a single playmaker has been a recipe for disaster before, but you have to hope that performances will improve as Suarez returns to the fold, his suspension finally fully served. Despite the fact that Liverpool had been unbeaten in the first nine matches of his suspension, without Coutinho, today's match proved that he's still very much needed.