LONDON – The Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool would have gotten of to a worse start if there was anything to glean from their 3-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion. At least, there wasn’t much to glean as it concerns their prospects to improve this season. After Saturday’s match, we can say Liverpool are incapable of stopping aberrational Zoltan Gera goals and they don’t play well when they’re down to 10 men. But there’s nothing more general – more applicable to future games – which came from the match. No team stops that Gera goal, and teams are generally pretty poor when outmanned. As it concerns Liverpool’s 2012-13, Saturday was neither hint nor revelation.
“It was just one of those games” is one of soccer’s many overused clichés, mostly because “those” is so ill-defined. In the context of Saturday’s game, it means a match where your team had little chance to winning. West Brom’s first goal (Gera’s) was unstoppable, and while Daniel Agger’s straight red was probably the right call, the penalty kick awarded after Martin Skrtel was judged to have fouled Shane Long almost certainly wasn’t. Peter Odemwingie’s conversation, coming minutes after Pepe Reina had stopped Long’s attempt after Agger’s foul, sealed the match.
Without the Skrtel call (at which time the score was 1-0, West Brom), perhaps Liverpool could have held out for half an hour before stealing a goal late. But to score two and allow none while down a man? That was too much.
There is a counter to the claim Liverpool could do little to win Saturday’s match: They could have scored some goals before Agger’s sending off. That’s fair enough, but Liverpool isn’t the first talented team to go an hour without scoring. They were on the road, against a moderately talented opponent, facing a man (former assistant Steve Clarke) who knew their personnel inside and out. They also generated a number of chances for Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan justifiably disappointed not to have converted two relatively easy headers. Though it’s always precarious to apply “if” to strikers, it’s natural to wonder how the game would have changed if Suarez converted with his normal efficacy.
Rodgers is unlikely to be up late thinking about Suarez’s finishing. Those goals will come, though there are other issues that should cost Rodgers sleep. Suarez was Liverpool’s only real threat, with Fabio Borini, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard failing to generate chances. The Reds looked disjointed, often needing to play directly to their main threat rather than crafting better chances. In the middle, Lucas Leiva’s obviously rusty, while at the back (particularly, in the middle), Liverpool looked predictably slow, offering the Baggies little second half resistance.
But Leiva will undoubtedly improve. Rodgers still seems to be looking for help in attack (he shouldn’t be happy having to start Downing), while Jamie Carragher, badly exposed at times on Saturday, won’t play often (though Agger will now serve a suspension thanks to his dismissal).
There’s no need to listen to Chicken Littles, if there are any chirping about after Liverpool’s opener. It was just one of those games.
Two 5-0s, and it could have been worse
Reflexively, you want to give credit when teams score five goals, but the terrible defending we saw from Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City makes it difficult to aggrandize Swansea City and Fulham. With both winners early Premier League leaders (sitting on top of the table thanks to their +5 goal difference), they don’t need adulation from random American bloggers to round out their raucous openers. If I point out the lopsided scores were more the defenses’ doing than the attacks’ skill, they won’t notice, let alone take offense.
Norwich City, under new manager Chris Houghton, were inexplicably stoic, with players often standing still, the Canaries’ midfield and defense cemented to their positions as Fulham weaved through them. Against a Cottager attack that Martin Jol’s based on passing and movement, it was a disastrous approach. Mladen Petric scored twice in his Premier League debut, while the likes of Damien Duff, 20-year-old Alexander Kacaniklic, and Steve Sidwell also open their accounts. It’s not like Fulham needed performances from the likes of Moussa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz, and Clint Dempsey (not in the game day squad) to post the landslide.
Elsewhere in West London, QPR was giving new Swansea manager Michael Laudrup an unexpectedly warm welcome to the Premier League, making new attacking midfielder Michu look like an early steal. The former Rayo Vallecano man was brought to Wales for £2 million this summer. Within an hour of his debut, he had two goals. The first was the result of a botched effort from new goalkeeper Robert Green. The second came after it became clear Park Ji-Sung, failing to track a jogging Michu through midfield on a counter, left his third lung in Manchester.
Nathan Dyer followed with two relatively easy goals, while Scott Sinclair was unbothered as he came off the bench of tee up the fifth.
Queens Park Rangers were disorganized, lacked initiative, and were a poor reflection on a manager who had over a month of training to get his team prepared for this game. Mark Hughes claiming (post-game) his team should have been much better was as much an indictment of his preparation as his players’ performance.
Elsewhere in England …
- Arsenal dominated Sunderland but could never break through, opening the season with a 0-0 at Emirates Stadium. It’s a disappointing result, but one that should (but likely won’)t leave Gooners encouraged. Santi Cazorla looks like he might be on of the leagues best players. The team constantly generated chances. Alex Song wasn’t missed. The defense was largely fine (if untested). Fans need not be worried unless Arsenal strings together two more of these.
- Stoke City’s the same as ever, which was almost enough to get three points at Reading. According to the BBC, captain Ryan Shawcross was warned in the first half to calm his team down, the Potters giving the Royals a rude (and rough) welcome back to the Premier League. Perhaps it was only appropriate that a penalty allowed Reading to snare a point on their return.
- There was unwarranted controversy at the Boleyn Ground, with many onlookers thinking West Ham’s Ricardo Vaz Te was offside before setting up Kevin Nolan’s goal against Aston Villa. Replays showed Mike Dean made the correct call, noting Ciaran Clark played a header back to the Hammers’ attacker. Of greater importance than the perceived blown call to Villans: Their team gave no impression this will be anything but a long, dramatic year for the Midlands’ biggest club.
- In the Match of the Day, Tottenham gave fans reason to believe the transition to Andre Villas-Boas will be a smooth one. Unfortunately or them, Newcastle was still able to take a 2-1 win. Though Spurs looked the better side for much of Saturday’s match at Sports Direct Arena, a great second half goal from Demba Ba and penalty kick drawn (and converted) by Hatem Ben Arfa were enough for the Magpies to take three points. Spurs missed Luka Modric and need more striking power (Harry Kane was their forward off the bench). Perhaps instead of creating undo drama (and wasting time) with Modric, Daniel Levy can start addressing this squad’s needs?