Skrtel OG 87'
Pathetic. Abject, wretched failure. The worst performance since Rodgers arrived, the worst of Dalglish's reign all over again, almost a mirror injury of Liverpool's soul-killing 1-3 loss at Bolton that winter despite the massive differences in formation and personnel.
Rodgers gambled with the XI and paid dearly for it. I simply do not understand what he was trying to do today. Sure, both Sturridge and Coutinho were absent through injury, the latter only fit enough for 25 minutes off the bench – seriously, what went on in training this week? – and Liverpool have a lot of matches over the next month. Changes had to happen. But these were the wrong changes, and the wrong tactics.
Steve Bruce's Hull sit as deep as any side in the division, playing for counter-attacks and set plays. Bringing in Moses and Sterling – two speedy, direct wingers who thrive on counters and will try to dribble past every defender – made little sense at best. In practice, it played directly into Hull's hands, at fault for both the first goal and Liverpool's inability to create anything from open play.
So maybe Rodgers wanted to try to draw Hull out of their own half, invite a modicum of pressure before attacking at pace. If that was the case, playing four right-footed defenders when Hull's lone strength in attacking from open play is down their right flank, was just as unjustifiable. Sure, Agger's fitness needs to be managed and Flanagan deserved a second start. Playing four right-footed defenders was as bad a decision as playing four center-backs against Southampton. Arguably worse. And especially unforgivable with both Sakho and Agger on the bench. Yes, two of Hull's three goals took incredible lucky deflections, both off the helpless Martin Skrtel, but Liverpool should have never let them into those positions in the first place, and were deservedly, ruthlessly punished.
It's no excuse for the three goals that Liverpool conceded. A horrific giveaway for the first (from one of those personnel changes), an inexplicable failure to clear an unthreatening set play for the second (mainly from another of those personnel changes), carved wide open on the counter for the third when pressing in vain for an equalizer.
The match started ominously, with Liverpool camped in Hull's half for the first 20 minutes but somehow failing to create a single chance, whether in open play or through one of five set plays. Hull, earning an unnecessary corner, registered the first shot of the contest, created by two center-backs: Bruce's cross back in headed wide by Davies. So it was little surprise when Hull took the lead. I can't describe just how awful, how stupid Moses' giveaway was: poorly attempting to rainbow a chip over a defender when trying to break from his own half, succeeding in handing possession straight back to Hull when almost every Liverpool player had started to charge forward. A one-touch triangle around Lucas, then Livermore's shot from distance deflecting off of Skrtel's backside to loop over Mignolet. When you do something that mind-bogglingly dumb, the opposition deserves that little bit of luck.
That Liverpool responded in the best possible manner, equalizing within seven minutes, seemed to bode well. Once again a set play, once again a direct free kick. This time, from Steven Gerrard, wonderfully whipped around the wall when everyone in attendance expected Suarez to take. But Liverpool's disjointed attack couldn't take advantage of the momentum shift, Hull's deep defense continuing to deny Liverpool's dribble-happy attackers. Liverpool didn't manage an open play shot until the 45th minute, a tame Suarez effort straight at McGregor.
The second half continued in the same vein, the lone goal-scoring chance another Davies header wide from a Hull set play until Rodgers finally made a substitution, with Coutinho replacing Sterling in the 66th minute. And Liverpool should have taken the lead with one of their three chances in the subsequent five minutes, all set up by the Brazilian. But both Suarez and Henderson shot wide from outside the box, followed by the worst miss of the bunch, with Moses shooting directly after McGregor from point-blank range, released by Suarez's chip over the top and Coutinho's one-touch centering pass.
And then, because Liverpool, because football, Hull scored a minute later. A deep free kick headed skyward by a wide-open Davies, Skrtel and Toure colliding and hashing at a clearance, then Toure and Lucas failing to hoof Meyler's blocked effort away, it rebounding straight back to the ex-Sunderland midfielder, wide open for the shot. Cue Yakety Sax. It can still be a comedy of errors even if it isn't funny.
As against Everton last week, Liverpool piled forward in search of an equalizer, with Luis Alberto replacing Moses. And like against Everton, the lone chance for one came from a set play, with Suarez's dangerous free kick whistling wide of the far post. Unlike against Everton, Liverpool proceeded to concede when more open than a pervert's trench coat, Sagbo allowed to charge at the two defenders left in Liverpool's half before holding up play for Huddlestone, stepping around one retreating defender before his off-target shot was redirected into Liverpool's net by the again helpless Skrtel.
Once again, if Liverpool concede first, Liverpool are pretty much screwed. Before this match, Liverpool had allowed the first goal in 18 of the 50 league matches played under Rodgers. The record in those matches? Two wins, seven draws, nine losses. It's ten losses now. Conceding first in just 37% of their matches isn't horrific, but – for all of Liverpool's increasingly ability to respond to setbacks – averaging just 0.68 points per game when conceding first sure is.
No player stood out today, to say the absolute least, and Moses and Sterling (along with Johnson) certainly seemed the most culpable, but Suarez was almost as appalling. It's just harder to criticize the Uruguayan when he's been so crucial in the past. Five shots, but only one posed any threat, the aforementioned 83rd minute free kick. Zero chances created, zero successful take-ons (of six attempted), and just 67% pass accuracy (56% in the attacking third). He didn't have much help, but Suarez has single-handedly won matches for Liverpool without help. That certainly wasn't happening today.
Rodgers has gotten it right more than he's gotten it wrong, but that doesn't make today's decisions or result any easier to stomach. Liverpool will almost assuredly drop into fourth, possibly fifth, after Chelsea v Southampton and City beat Swansea. Given the difficulty of Liverpool's fixtures over the next month, made worse by Sturridge's absence, it'll take a hell of a response to stay amongst the Champions League places.
This month will define Liverpool's season. And it's started in the absolute worst manner.