Resurgent Tigers deepen Liverpool's malaise
Hull City 2 Liverpool 0
Jürgen Klopp might have suspected the worst was over for Liverpool after their encouraging midweek display against Chelsea. He was wrong. Their slump deepened on an alarming afternoon at Hull City, where on-loan Everton flop Oumar Niasse came off the bench to seal victory for Marco Silva's rapidly improving team. Champions League qualification will be beyond Liverpool at this rate.
It is now one win in 10 for Klopp's team and their problems with defending set-pieces or a counter-attack show no sign of alleviating. Hull were clinical and committed where Liverpool were wasteful, lethargic and rarely convincing. Hull's January additions, Alfred N'Diaye and Niasse, ensured a fourth consecutive home win for Silva's side.
The breakthrough was a fitting tribute to a scrappy, dull first half and another entry into the Liverpool catalogue of weak defending at set-pieces. Two careless touches from Emre Can gifted Hull a corner. New signing Kamil Grosicki crossed from the right, Harry Maguire headed into the six-yard area and Simon Mignolet, under pressure from Abel Hernández, could only palm the ball down at the feet of N'Diaye, who made no mistake from close range.
Questions will be rightly asked of an unconvincing intervention from the Liverpool goalkeeper, but Mignolet was not the only player culpable. Hernández and N'Diaye reacted quicker than anyone in red when Maguire won the initial header and were unmarked as Mignolet attempted to claim possession while Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva and Nathaniel Clyne were caught static. It was the costly return of a weakness Klopp hoped had been eradicated.
Both the Liverpool and Hull defences had been reorganised late in the day but neither was seriously examined until N'Diaye's first goal for his new club. Lucas was drafted in at centre-back by Klopp, with Dejan Lovren absent because of a knee problem, while Silva lost his captain, Michael Dawson, to injury during the warm-up. Italian Andrea Ranocchia was summonsed from the bench to make his first start since arriving on loan from Internazionale and was one of three full debutants in the Hull team, alongside Grosicki and N'Diaye. All three made assured starts, although it was the Premier League experience of Tom Huddlestone that shone in the centre of Hull's performance.
Huddlestone's quick-thinking and quicker feet helped Hull turn defence into counter-attack throughout the first half, but this was not another of those contests that have seen Liverpool toil against deep-lying opposition of late. The visitors were subdued and aimless until finally upping the tempo and threat levels after the restart.
Can curled an early chance wide and Philippe Coutinho's shot was deflected out for a corner by Eldin Jakupovic after the home goalkeeper had spilled Roberto Firmino's cross into the path of the Brazilian under pressure from his own defender, Maguire. Otherwise, with Ranocchia composed and Omar Elabdellaoui ignoring the painful distraction of a broken nose to defend diligently, Liverpool were easily contained.
The second half initially reflected a game between a team with designs on the Champions League and another hoping to avoid the Championship. Klopp's team restarted brightly, stretching Hull repeatedly. Yet again, however, an end product was nowhere to be seen. Sadio Mané forced a fine save from the back-peddling Jakupovic when he rose above Andy Robertson to head Adam Lallana's cross goalwards. The keeper also made a routine save from Can's diving header before Coutinho missed Liverpool's clearest opportunity when James Milner's effort deflected into his path off Maguire. The Brazil international had time and space at the back post, but sliced so badly his shot sailed across goal and out.
Almost inevitably, Klopp's team were made to pay on the counter-attack. Hull's second stemmed from Mané losing possession. Referee Lee Mason ignored his appeals for a free-kick and Ranocchia played a first-time clearance over the Liverpool defence for Niasse to chase. The Senegal international beat Mignolet with a cool, low finish and Silva's rescue mission gathered fresh momentum.
Sunday Indo Sport