01 October 2014

Liverpool 0-1 Basel

Streller 52'

Complete disconnect in attack and a goal conceded from a set play. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

So rather than hash over the gory details about how Liverpool looked reasonably secure until conceding not long after halftime or how Basel actually became better after a 5th minute injury, forcing a switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2, I'm going to focus on something else.

We'll quote it in its entirety.

“Some managers would take the stance of ‘I don’t care’ because you might only be in a job for three, four, five years so make sure he plays as much as he can for you,” said Rodgers. “But I have welfare for the boy. I think it has to be critical that, in 10 years’ time, he is approaching his peak, as opposed to having played his best games. When he gets to 28 and if he has got too many miles on the clock and he is burned out, that is something we will have to look at. He is a big talent. He broke into the team at 17. As a club, we have managed him quite well. But it is hard when you are such a good player and you keep performing. Both your club and your country need you. Michael Owen had different types of injuries. Then you look at Robbie Fowler. You think of how good he was when he was a kid and then injuries caught up with him. He was 27, really. That is why I am protecting them when I can. You want that form to be consistent. You have to make sure he is fresh and well. He is a talented boy who will be managed as we feel is best.

I really try not to partake in the second-guessing game, but Raheem Sterling should not have played 90 minutes today. In fact, he probably shouldn't have played at all. Playing him made the side worse, and is potentially detrimentally to his career. I want to make it clear. I'm not criticizing the player. I'm criticizing the manager. All that's changed between now and the above quotes from Rodgers are Liverpool's increasingly poor form and results, so Rodgers is riding Sterling as hard as he can, because he sees a still-developing 19-year-old as his best hope.

That's not good.

I realize that Sterling is Liverpool's best attacking option at the moment. But three times the ball found him in space in or just outside the box, all in the second half with Liverpool chasing the game. Three times he failed to control, either forcing a shot easily blocked or losing possession. It's not so much physical fatigue – although that's there too – but mental fatigue. The kind of fatigue that also leads to losing possession in the 90th minute against Ludogorets or back passes in the 120th minute against Middlesbrough. And unlike on Saturday, where he was Liverpool's most creative player, he also failed to create a single chance.

To compound matters, Liverpool have lots of other problems at the moment.

Part of the reason Sterling continues to play no matter form or fitness is that Liverpool's other attackers aren't offering much help. Balotelli again worked hard, but never even touched the ball in Basel's penalty box, which is very much a bad thing for your central striker, and – like Sterling – failed to create a single chance. Sure, he's been as advertised and will be better once Sturridge returns, but he's been fairly dire as a lone attacker in this still-changing Liverpool system. Markovic's performance was an improvement on Boro or Everton, but he still looks every bit a 20-year-old low on confidence adjusting to a new team and league, and – like Sterling and Balotelli – failed to create a single chance. It's also not good when none of your attackers complete a key pass.

Meanwhile, Coutinho completed five, and was the first player substituted, for Lallana in the 70th minute. And to be fair, Liverpool had two decent opportunities after Lallana came on. Unfortunately, the first was one of the aforementioned opportunities for a clearly fatigued Sterling, the other was put wide by Markovic from Enrique's pass. And after Rickie Lambert replaced Markovic in the 81st minute, Liverpool's marginal opportunities completely dried up, the only moment of note when Balotelli was very offside when receiving Gerrard's chip over the defense, otherwise sputtering to yet another narrow, disappointing loss. As against Villa, as against West Ham.

Liverpool weren't incredibly exposed in midfield, with Henderson and Gerrard offering enough protection, but they had absolutely no control either, with Basel dominating possession until taking the lead, and continuing to edge possession even after taking it. Liverpool were however, very exposed on the flanks, the wing-backs getting forward to excellent effect against both Manquillo and Enrique.

And, of course, set play defending remains almost as big a problem as the misfiring attack, today's effort featuring Skrtel holding, Lovren ball-watching, and Mignolet parrying Schär's initial header straight into the path of Streller. Superb. 0-0 would have been disappointing, but still a decent result away from home in the Champions League, and set play defending is the reason Liverpool didn't even get that. Again.

All told, Liverpool were outclassed by a side that wasn't very good. Yes, life without Suarez, and now without an injured Sturridge, acclimating all these new players in a new system was always going to be difficult, and was going to be a process, but it shouldn't be this arduous. This was a team that Liverpool should have beaten, even struggling for form and with key players missing. Basel worked hard and caused problems down the flanks, but that shouldn't be enough to beat Liverpool.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it is, just as Villa and West Ham also demonstrated. And now Liverpool have to claw back even the minuscule boost in confidence from the decent performance against Everton. Because in three days time, they face a West Brom side not only above them in the league, but who also won their last game solely because of their threat from set plays.


Anonymous said...

When do the words panic enter the equation - dire.

Anonymous said...

Time for Rodgers to get back to basics. Where is the emphasis on pressing? So key to his philosophy, and seems to be completely ignored this season. More pressing, more interchange of attackers in and around the penalty area. We can still hit hard on the counterattack, but we need to get back to a defined style. Seems like each player is trying to make it happen on their own.