Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool drift back to old failings
Liverpool 0 West Ham 3
The relationship between a football club, the managers and supporters is rather like the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. At its most fulfilling, -smiling cupids applaud every gesture. Give it a few weeks and you have -emotional wreckage and calls for another divorce.
Take West Ham United, for instance. Their supporters left the Emirates Stadium and Anfield this season hailing the transformation of their side under Slaven Bilic, two of the most fashionable clubs disrobed with classic away wins. Then you get back to the Boleyn Ground, lose against Bournemouth or Leicester City, and the East End air is lovesick for the era of Sam Allardyce.
Brendan Rodgers is as vulnerable as any Premier League manager to the weekly turbulence. Rodgers returned to the supposed haven of Anfield armed with an unbeaten record, three clean sheets and four points from notoriously difficult venues. But Saturday afternoon proved that no matter how many encouraging performances he oversees, it will only take an abject one to stir the torments.
In 90 minutes, a month of assessments presenting a more robust Liverpool were hastily revised, with the caveat that they will be dusted back down and recommissioned if the club win at Old Trafford in a fortnight's time.
It was not just a single rancid display that alarmed The Kop, but the return of characteristics that polluted the past 12 months.
The response to going two goals down via Manuel Lanzini and Mark Noble was panic-stricken and ill-disciplined, culminating in Philippe Coutinho's daft dismissal for two cautions. The game plan fine-tuned in pre-season was dismantled at half-time when Rodgers opted to play three centre-halves. Players who thought they were waving goodbye, such as Lucas Leiva, were called back from the departure lounge and selected in a fixture that does not suit them - probably to prevent a deadline-day move. The defence was fragile and shapeless and the attack was limp.
The only comfort at full-time was the promise of Daniel Sturridge's imminent return from injury, even though history shows the perils of expecting him to play more than two thirds of a campaign.
Chief culprit in a defensive collapse was a player who had excelled in those first three matches: Dejan Lovren. His woe served only to mobilise and embolden the Mamadou Sakho fan club within and outside Anfield. The Croatian's chief ally post-match was Bilic, who suggested that Lovren looked confused by the idea of leading others rather than focusing solely on his own game. "I put him in the Croatia team when he was very young. I know him best," Bilic said.
"When he's concentrated and thinking only about his own game, not about the left back or whoever is alongside him, there are very few centre-halves who are better than him. One mistake anyone can do but if you are telling me that Liverpool lost because of Dejan Lovren then no, no, no, no, no."
Diafra Sakho sprinkled extra stardust with a third just before full-time, but Rodgers has greater issues than his perennially unreliable centre-backs. His habit of embracing the drawing board at the first hint of trouble is starting to smack of uncertainty rather than ingenuity. Winning ugly has its place, but when attractive football has been absent for so long, grotesqueness is magnified in a defeat.
The rush to conclude exactly what this Liverpool team will become - or even what it is meant to be - is confusing. Four games in, this incarnation of a meaner, tougher team took a hammering.
It is 52 years since West Ham won at Anfield. The last time they did it, Bill Shankly's Liverpool ended the season as champions. It is a fair assumption that Manuel Pellegrini will not be shifting uncomfortably in his chair this year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)