Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (h), Basel (a), Everton (h), West Ham (a), Ludogorets (h), Aston Villa (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
Where do you start with that? An abysmal performance at both ends of the pitch, except Liverpool's counter-attack came to life in the final 5-10 minutes, against the worst side in the division. Rodgers experimenting with both personnel and formation with Madrid imminent, and none of those experiments working out.
The biggest surprise was moving Gerrard forward after using a similar set-up to finish the win against West Brom.
As a defensive tactic, Gerrard as the #10 made little sense. There have been games where he's been attacked and suffered, but his performance as the ostensible defensive midfielder hasn't been why Liverpool concede early and often. Even if QPR had started with its more-frequent 4-5-1 system, they'd still have focused on attacking down the flanks, most likely Liverpool's left.
It seems to me that it had to have been an attacking tactic, based solely off of the final 15-20 minutes against West Brom, trying to get more out of Balotelli by providing service from the captain. Which makes little sense, because the game states were vastly different. Then, West Brom had to throw men forward in search of an equalizer, there was space for Gerrard to roam. That wasn't going to be the case at the beginning of the match at QPR, up against two very defensive midfielders in Henry and Sandro. And it failed miserably.
Liverpool were utterly insipid in attack in the first half, unable to even take a shot until the 26th minute.
And Gerrard and Balotelli exchanged all of five passes. Just one came with Gerrard in an advanced role: Balotelli's key pass for Gerrard's shot off-target in the 44th minute, by far Liverpool's best chance to that point.
Yes, some of that was down to Balotelli, not only a fish out of water in this team, who still shoots from less-than-ideal positions when a pass is a much better option, but also a fish wholly devoid of confidence. We're reaching Peter Crouch territory here, a player who took 1227 minutes to score his first Liverpool goal (706 minutes in the league). Balotelli's been held scoreless for 427 minutes in the league, after registering his first Liverpool goal in the Champions League after 214 minutes for the club. A player with confidence, even with Balotelli's flaws, buries that chance in the 61st first rather than rushing his shot and hammering it over. I am admittedly still quite worried, but I also still truly believe all he needs is just one league goal to get the rock rolling downhill, as it did for Crouch.
At least Balotelli did a much better job of actually getting into the box compared to previous performances. That's not enough, but it is a start.
Regardless, is an attacking role really the best use of Steven Gerrard these days?
So it was no surprise to see Liverpool more cohesive in attack after the interval.
To be fair, some of that was QPR's doing, pressing very well, especially in the first half, with seven of their 21 successful tackles in Liverpool's half. Credit to Redknapp for realizing that Liverpool have had trouble when playing against two strikers all season long; I was fairly certain he'd bunker down with the more frequently deployed 4-5-1 formation. Liverpool have faced two-striker formations three times now: at City (4-2-2-2), at West Ham (4-Diamond-2), and at QPR (lopsided 4-4-2). Coincidentally, those are the only three league matches where Liverpool have conceded at least two goals.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have played 4-2-3-1 in five matches this season (four in the league, as well as Basel), and it's seemed reasonably competent twice: the first match against Southampton, won thanks to Sturridge and Sterling far more than the formation, and at Everton, where Liverpool were still disjointed in attack but would have won if not for Jagielka's hapax legomenon. Both with and without Sturridge – and sadly, we've far more evidence without – Liverpool remain better with two mobile midfielders deployed ahead of Gerrard, at both ends.
Finally, the elephant stomping, stamping, snorting, and screaming in the room. I'm at a loss for answers about the defense. It's been bad all season long, but yesterday's performance was the worst. Personnel certainly had something to do with it – we can lay at least 80% of QPR's first goal at Enrique's feet, almost all of QPR's chances came down that flank, Lallana (for all his positive attributes) isn't especially suited to providing defensive support, Johnson was no great shakes either – but it has to be systemic as well. Different players keep making similar errors: Henderson, Johnson, and Skrtel all missing tackles in the run up to Austin's early effort; Lovren and Enrique switching off on Zamora in the run up to the first time Fer hit the crossbar; Lovren's misplayed header going backwards perfectly for Austin on the first goal; Gerrard switching off on Vargas for the second goal, even with Joe Allen pointing and screaming about the open space. Et cetera, et cetera.
Given his complete lack of match practice, it's little surprise that Enrique was tormented all game long, but that both Skrtel and Lovren were outplayed by Zamora was embarrassing. I was amazed to see that Lovren actually won 10 of his 14 aerial duels (and Skrtel won five of six), because it certainly didn't seem that way during the match.
Even at their worst, either last season or this season, Liverpool have at least been decent at preventing danger zone shots. Not yesterday. Nine of QPR's 15 efforts came from the six-yard box or the center of the 18-yard box, including both goals, as well as those three first half chances that should have led to goals. That's a massive step backwards, and bodes very badly for the future if it continues.
At least Sterling was nearly back to his best, at the heart of all three Liverpool goals, receiving and playing his high in passes this season, and Liverpool's joint-top chance creator. That he didn't take any shots is worrying, but also symptomatic of when he plays on the right, unable to cut inside onto his stronger foot. At least the counter came to life late on, with Coutinho also impressive when Liverpool broke; the pass to set up Liverpool's third was as good as any he's played while at the club. At least Liverpool didn't lose, unwilling and unable to give up, and not for the first time this season.
But you cannot be mistake-prone, abysmal on set plays, and then allow that many danger zone shots. You cannot be that disjointed in attack for nearly 90 minutes. It is a recipe for disaster against almost every side in the world. Except, I guess, Harry Redknapp's QPR.