Previous Match Infographics: Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Ludogorets (a), Crystal Palace (a), Chelsea (h), Real Madrid (a), Newcastle (a), Hull (h), Real Madrid (h), QPR (a), 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.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews)
Steven Gerrard – so nearly a hero yet again – said it best. Liverpool got exactly what they deserved, from yesterday's match and from this Champions League campaign.
We can complain about the underlying statistics, the same complaints that have been aired here over the last few weeks and months. Especially the shooting statistics: the slow start, the poor accuracy, etc. But you've heard those complaints before.
I'm far more concerned with Liverpool's – read: Brendan Rodgers' – philosophy and tactics yesterday.
Because I don't see Brendan Rodgers' philosophy anymore. But I do see Rodgers abandoning both the tactics which nearly saw Liverpool win the league last season and the players bought over the summer.
Liverpool's Starting XI
• Mignolet (Rodgers)
• Johnson (Benitez)
• Skrtel (Benitez)
• Lovren (Rodgers)
• Enrique (Dalglish)
• Lucas (Benitez)
• Allen (Rodgers)
• Sterling (Benitez, but debuted under Dalglish)
• Gerrard (Academy, debuted under Houllier)
• Henderson (Dalglish)
• Lambert (Rodgers)
There were as many players in the starting XI bought by a manager who was fired more than four years ago as were signed by the current manager. That's the most damning indictment of the recent transfer strategy I've seen, and I've seen a few. Meanwhile…
• Jones (Hodgson)
• Sakho (Rodgers)
• Moreno (Rodgers)
• Can (Rodgers)
• Lallana (Rodgers)
• Coutinho (Rodgers)
• Markovic (Rodgers)
Sigh. That's an awful lot of talent left on the bench. And an awful lot of transfer fees. And six of seven players who were bought by the current manager.
The starting XI was, for lack of a better word, embarrassing. It was overly cautious, overly ponderous, and seemingly failed to take into account Basel's (and Liverpool's) strengths.
- A return to the defense which led to the abomination at QPR. Sure, Toure was injured and Sakho's just back from injury (and who knows how match fit he is), but there's absolutely no argument for Enrique over Moreno or Manquillo except for that intangible "experience." Manquillo is stronger in the tackle, better at blocking crosses, and usually smarter in his positioning. Moreno has the much-needed pace that Liverpool's XI so sorely lacked. At least that was rectified at halftime.
- Lambert, clearly fatigued in the last two league matches, started for the sixth time in 16 days. Again, Liverpool's aren't overflowing with options (that Liverpool thought it a good idea to begin a campaign with Lambert and Borini as third- and fourth-choice strikers when the first choice is often injured and you've no idea what you're getting from the second is a valid, but different, discussion) but everyone – everyone! – had seen that was a recipe for disaster. If I saw it, and I'm an idiot, I've no idea how Rodgers didn't. Or, he still thought that a fatigued Lambert was still a better option than Borini or Sterling or Markovic or even Gerrard up front. Which is a damning indictment of the first player he signed for Liverpool, a player who hasn't made an appearance since the loss at Palace, among other things. At least that was rectified at halftime.
- Lucas had looked better as the sole defensive midfielder with two players ahead of him, but yesterday's he partnered with Allen, seemingly reacting to Basel's shape with Zuffi and Elneny ahead of Frei. And it led to multiple moments like this one, with Liverpool's midfield out of position because one midfielder's not sure if it's time to go forward but yep it's time to go forward oh shit wait we're both going forward and Liverpool have lost possession and yikes. And moments like the goal – starting from a Liverpool giveaway in its own half, because Liverpool are not good at passing from the back when pressured – with Frei and Zuffi passing around Lucas and Frei dancing past Allen, although Skrtel's backing off of those two was just as culpable.
- Henderson on the left, because Xhaka is a more attacking fullback than Safari, I guess. A position he's started in once (at Newcastle this season, with Sterling again on the right, which went well) since the beginning of 2013-14.
Hindsight's 20/20 etc., but Liverpool needed pace against Basel's press and counter, not a ponderous midfield, a fatigued striker, a central midfielder on the flank, and defenders who look utterly terrified every time the ball's at their feet. It's no coincidence that Liverpool improved after halftime, bringing on the speedy Markovic and Moreno for the hapless Lambert and Enrique, beginning to take the game to Basel rather than vice versa.
Liverpool weren't vastly better, but Liverpool were better. Liverpool were proactive rather than reactive. Liverpool were actually almost threatening. In just 15 minutes, Markovic completed more successful dribbles than any player except Sterling and Safari.
Yes, that strategy was doomed by a hilariously bad red card to Markovic. But Liverpool still kept pushing, still played on the front foot, and, yes, were obviously helped by Basel happy to defend a one-goal lead rather than seeking out more. Once Gerrard conjured a moment of magic – and no matter the (often valid) complaints about him and how he's used these days, no other Liverpool player is capable of that magic – Liverpool went for it, and Liverpool nearly succeeded. But it's funny that occurred with Skrtel left up front. Resorting to a center-back up front is something you'd expect from Mourinho, or Hodgson, or most managers, but not Rodgers. But in the 90th minute, Skrtel almost scored the winner by making a near post run, the type of run that Liverpool strikers have failed (or been unable) to make since Sturridge was injured.
I still have more time for Brendan Rodgers than most, but this cannot keep happening. For once, Rodgers' in-game changes improved the side, but his starting XI was chosen in the hopes of not losing rather than winning, despite Liverpool needing to win. I can't help but remember Rafa Benitez's final, horrible season. Needing to overhaul a deficit in the Europa League knockout rounds, he went guns blazing – despite his usual inclination to do nothing of the sort, especially in European competition – and hammered Lille and Benfica, both sides vastly better than this Basel side.
It's easy to say from behind a computer, but Rodgers has to have more faith in his team, his transfers, and his tactics. He's got to dance with the one that brought him here. Or it's going to be a very long and very uncomfortable six months before a probable summer exit.