The West Ham curse lives on, in slightly diminished form.
The Liverpool defensive curse lives on, because Liverpool's self-destructive tendencies live on.
It's more points dropped from a winning position and more shooting yourself in the foot coupled with a bit of bad luck. At home, against a side in the relegation zone missing two starting defenders who'd lost their last two matches by a 9-2 margin.
It all looked so very different after five minutes. Liverpool win possession from Randolph's hopeful punt, Origi brilliantly flicks to Firmino out wide while holding off a defender, Firmino finds Mané cutting from right to left. And Mané out wide on the left somehow gets in a weaker foot cross to Lallana open eight yards from goal, right-footed control, left-footed finish. Woof. Pace and fluidity personified, poetry in motion.
Pity that'd pretty much be Liverpool's only good attacking move of the match.
The problem with players constantly looking to interchange, who haven't played with each other that often – Origi still young and raw, Firmino and Lallana are recently back from injury, the former not used to being on the left even if that position's mostly in theory – is it's great when it comes off, but more often than not, it's going to lead to misplaced passes and a disjointed attack.
And, when that's combined with Liverpool's soul-killing predilection for defensive eccentricity, West Ham responds to Liverpool's early goal and we get today.
The sad thing is that Liverpool probably go unpunished most days against most sides. Absolutely, blame Karius' position on Payet's free kick equalizer, as well as the fact he gets a hand to the ball and it still goes in, but you still need a player like Payet to arrow it around the wall and in from 30 yards. 11 minutes later, West Ham are ahead from a hopeful long ball, and you're welcome to blame Karius getting caught in no-man's land and Matip getting wrong-footed, but that only happens because that hopeful long ball deflected perfectly for Antonio off Henderson's head.
Did West Ham even have any other reasonable chances to score besides those two goals? Yes, Liverpool allow way too many goals from the paltry amount of shots conceded. But Liverpool's defensive mishaps and mistakes blind us to how poor Liverpool's attack has been without Coutinho. Shot accuracy's down, shot totals are down, and chance quality is down, and that's as big a reason for Liverpool's failure in the last two matches as the defense that's been this defense all season long.
If Liverpool's attack is even 50% of what we saw before Coutinho (and Sturridge) was injured, Liverpool wins today. 3-2, 4-2, whatever.
Yes, Liverpool were better in the second half. A bit more cohesive in attack and assuredly more secure at the back. But Liverpool only equalized thanks to a massive goalkeeper mistake, Randolph dropping Mané's cross directly to Origi, a mistake far worse than anything Karius did today. That was Liverpool's only clear-cut chance of the match. Liverpool's only other shot on-target was Henderson from long, long range, wonderfully saved by Randolph. Liverpool had almost 45 full minutes at 2-2 and Liverpool took just eight shots: Henderson from distance on-target, three shots off-target, four shots blocked. That's a pitiful amount considering Liverpool's time of possession and touches in the penalty box, and Liverpool's proclivity for crosses against West Ham's walking refrigerators (© Anton) certainly didn't help.
Liverpool's defense isn't good. We know this. 20 goals against in 15 games, constant and consistent calamities, etc. But Liverpool's defense was what Liverpool's defense has been all season. Good at denying shots but somehow bad at denying goals, and it's not all Karius' or Lovren's or Lucas' fault (although Liverpool's defense did look better after Klavan strangely replaced Lovren at halftime, I guess due to injury).
Liverpool have scored five goals in the last two games and taken just one point. So I understand wanting to blame a defense which conceded six. But three of those five goals had a lot to do with the opposition keeper: Boruc for the first two at Bournemouth, Randolph today. Can's third at Bournemouth was a shot he's missing nine times out of ten. Lallana's goal was Liverpool one move that demonstrated the quality that Liverpool aspire to.
You aren't getting most of those goals against better opposition.
There's no easy fix. Coutinho's out for three more weeks if not more. Who knows when Sturridge will be back. Mané's going to the African Cup of Nations next month. Liverpool's outfield substitutes today were Klavan, Lucas, Moreno, Alexander-Arnold, Ejaria, and Woodburn; ain't a lot you can do with that. I'm tempted to push Firmino central and drop Origi – despite the four goals in four games – because Firmino's been irrelevant on the left in the last two games and Origi still struggles to link up with others with any consistency, but I'm also just angry and reactionary at the moment. What are the options? Moreno at left-wing? Wijnaldum left when Can's back from his minor knee issue?
All Liverpool can do is what we said following last week's setback: heads down, keep working, respond. Hope players get fit, try to buy in January. But the necessary response now looks like a lot harder than we initially thought.