Welcome back, Liverpool. That was a short-lived renaissance, and all of a sudden we're back to defensive idiocy and a dearth of attacking creativity. You know, the issues that completely ruined the last campaign.
Pick your analogy: last season's 1-3 loss at Upton Park in September or Arsenal's 0-2 loss to West Ham on opening day. Either works. You've seen this film before.
Liverpool's game plan destroyed within three minutes thanks to shoddy defending, a complete inability to break down a happy-to-sit-deep defense, a second first-half goal conceded because of a horrific defensive error from Lovren. Liverpool tried to stop the rot by switching to 3-4-2-1 at halftime, and it didn't look like helping, but Coutinho's second yellow in the 52nd minute ensured there'd be no comeback.
So West Ham continued to sit back and Liverpool continued to do nothing worth noting. Noble's 78th minute dismissal (which'll assuredly and rightly be overturned) would have been a microscopic ray of optimism had Liverpool shown any capability of taking advantage, but the only "highlight" in the final 15 minutes was a third goal conceded because of more defensive ineptitude, a mix-up between Moreno and Lovren allowing Sakho in on goal in injury time.
Liverpool married this season's inability to get the attack going, limited to hoping Benteke or Coutinho or Firmino could pull a rabbit from the hat (which, admittedly Firmino almost did in the 9th minute with a wicked shot off the goal post), with last season's abysmal defending. That's a bad combination, and this was a bad a performance as possible. With a bit more ambition, West Ham could have pulled a Stoke, could have absolutely taken Liverpool to the woodshed.
One shot on-target from Liverpool, a 35-yard worm burner from Lovren in the 55th minute, from 13 mostly speculative efforts. Literally no idea how to break down a packed defense, something they hadn't really seen yet this season. Often exposed on the counter, and back to making the individual mistakes which had ruined so many matches last season.
And it all happened against a West Ham missing two key players through suspension, three strikers through injury, and who hadn't won at Anfield since 1963. This was only the second time Liverpool have lost a Premier League game at Anfield by three goals, the other to runaway league winners Chelsea in October 2005. I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that Chelsea side was a bit better than this West Ham side.
Not wanting to change the lineup after a reasonable performance at Arsenal is understandable. But needing Joe Gomez to be an attacking fullback, often leaving Lovren exposed, probably isn't the best idea. Playing Lucas in midfield in a match where you'll dominate possession and need to create chances in compressed spaces, while also needing pace to defend against counter-attacks, probably isn't the best idea. And once Coutinho went off, while he hadn't created much to that point anyway, Liverpool had no one capable of breaking the malaise on their own.
So maybe one good half of football from four matches isn't enough progress. One good goal scored and two good opposition goals luckily chalked off isn't enough progress. But, seemingly expecting to take the next step and wallop a side that'd conceded six in the last two matches, Liverpool also went away from the strategy which had earned them seven points from the first three matches: a strategy built first and foremost on defensive solidity and patience in attack.
Someone (read: Rodgers) got the vapors from Liverpool's first half performance at Arsenal. But – and, yes, hindsight's 20-20 – doing it against a West Ham side set up to sit deep and counter away from home, is very different from doing it against an open Arsenal who had to deploy a makeshift defense. It was too soon, and obviously, Liverpool aren't there yet. Nowhere close.
And now, one of those much-loved early season international breaks, needing to fix multiple problems with most first team players away with their countries. And then, a a trip to Manchester United without Liverpool's best and most important player.
It certainly doesn't take long for optimism to fully dissipate, does it?