Sunday 25 September 2016

Insipid, confused and lacking direction, this Liverpool side makes no sense

Chris Bascombe

Published 13/09/2015 | 17:06

New era: Joe Gomez and James Milner reflect on defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford
New era: Joe Gomez and James Milner reflect on defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford

Watching Liverpool at the moment puts one in mind of staring at a Jackson Pollock painting.

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No matter how much time and application has gone into creating it, or how much you analyse it, you’re none the wiser about what it is meant to be.

It was not Liverpool’s result at Old Trafford that was so disturbing.

Just as against West Ham a fortnight ago it was the manner of the defeat of far greater concern - the insipid way the team played and the absence of a recognised pattern.

Liverpool have been to the same venue and lost plenty of times without the demand for another week of soul-searching. The difference then was either one or both teams were rather good. On Saturday they lost a game between the two most mediocre Liverpool and Manchester United teams in recent history.

There is a feeling within Anfield it just a matter of time before a quality group of players click, the argument being another period of re-adjustment was inevitable as seven new recruits were introduced.

That may prove the case – it needs to in the next two Premier League home games - but it is those who were already at the club who are the cause of as much concern.

Read more: Liverpool legends turn on Brendan Rodgers

Memphis Depay of Manchester United takes on Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool played at Old Trafford

So much time has been dedicated to analysing the flaws in Dejan Lovren’s game, nobody seems to be noticing how often Martin Skrtel’s Liverpool career is littered with examples of failing to turn up for the biggest away fixtures. Skrtel flirted with leaving Anfield last summer. He was rewarded with a new deal. Most agreed.

Others thought his reputation as a bruising centre-half somewhat overplayed given he is a senior player who can’t even get himself into the conversation as a possible vice-captain, never mind display the character needed to take the armband. The lack of experience from Skrtel and Lovren when United worked Daley’s Blind’s opening goal from a set-piece was as alarming as any defensive slip.

Affable goalkeeper Simon Mignolet improved last season, but still convinces no-one he is of the required standard for a team with Champions League credentials. In midfield, the search for a permanent role for Emre Can is now entering its 14 month, and even has German manager Joachim Low joining in.

Can was excellent in a three man defence last season, but whenever Rodgers’ reverts to this formation three or four others are compromised. In midfield, the German wants too much time and too many touches. Low played him right back for Germany. Evidently he was not sent a video of Liverpool’s 6-1 defeat to Stoke last May.

Read more: Steven Gerrard on why Rafa Benitez didn’t like him, and injuring his penis

Without Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool have no link between midfield and attack. During the first 45 minutes on Saturday, they did not look capable of retaining possession in their own half, let alone United’s.

Rodgers has explored all these permutations - often in the same game - but even this brings with it the danger of changing too much, too often.

As seen at Old Trafford, the manager's preferred 4-3-3 system does not suit the likes of Danny Ings – who was probably Liverpool’s most diligent player at the weekend - and Liverpool supporters must pray Roberto Firmino’s lack of pace is a match fitness issue, otherwise it is unfathomable he cost nearly £30 million.

Christian Benteke, rather like Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert when they played upfront last season, may be tempted to join a lonely hearts club such is his isolation in attack.

If there is any comfort – and this is an exercise in making a feast from a crumb – at least Rodgers recognises how far his team has strayed from the blueprint.

Every time he has spoken this season - even when Liverpool won - he has acknowledged the need to impose his ideals on performances.

Rodgers drawing board took a hammering last season as he assessed his squad and tried to work out where everyone fit. Five games in, he must go back to it on a daily basis until he finds a way to deliver the artistry and classical shape and form he promised on his arrival.

Read more: 'As honest and committed as he is, Fellaini possesses the mobility of a milk float'

Telegraph.co.uk

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