Over-reliance on Torres at root of slide
The best thing that can be said about Liverpool's defeat in the Merseyside derby is that Roy Hodgson's side were better than they had been in their previous game, a loss at home to Blackpool. That, though, is not saying much.
Hodgson has been in football long enough to know that he will carry the can for everything that has gone wrong with Liverpool's start to the season.
Lying 19th in the Premier League, that is the nature of the game. The problem, though, runs deeper than that.
Liverpool are paying the price for relying so heavily for so long on two men: Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. For years, they have turned to them to win games, to get them out of trouble. For years, they produced.
Suddenly, one of the two is proving ineffective.
It is Torres who is of concern. No player has ever become a superstar at Liverpool in such a short space of time. Yet he has gone from being a world-beater to the sort of striker any defender would relish marking. His game has always relied on pace and sharpness, and at the moment he has neither.
Like Wayne Rooney, he looks as though he has never seen a football before.
Hodgson is caught in a catch-22, because the only way to help Torres recapture the form that terrorised the rest of the Premier League for so long is to offer him the playing time he needs.
Every time he plays, though, he looks worse, he loses a little bit more confidence and the problem becomes more entrenched.
There is an argument that Torres needs more help from his team-mates, but then he did not need that help three years ago, when he was more than capable of picking the ball up and beating three men.
His confidence is so low now, though, that every time he received possession yesterday, he looked to play it backwards. That is not the Fernando Torres of old.
Because he has effectively been removed from the equation, Liverpool now find themselves looking to Gerrard to win games on his own.
Though he has played better than all of his outfield team-mates this season, he can no longer drag the club along by the force of his own will.
And yet there is nobody among the squad at Hodgson's disposal prepared to stand up and offer something extra, something different, when they stand on the edge of the abyss.
There are too many players who look good when things are going well, but seem resigned to being poor when everything is not so perfect.
That has been coming for a long time. Hodgson inherited a squad with too many average players and four or five exceptional ones, but for so long had they been used to looking to Gerrard and Torres that, when they are a shadow of their former selves, there is nobody to step into the breach.
This is largely the same Liverpool side that finished second just two years ago. True, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano have left the club, but the overwhelming majority of players were there when Real Madrid and Manchester United were beaten in successive games.
They still have internationals in every position, whether it is Joe Cole, a regular for England for years, or Dirk Kuyt, who played in the World Cup final, and they have added Raul Meireles, who was exceptional for Portugal in South Africa.
But the difference between then and now is in their confidence as a collective unit. Imagine going into the dressing-room two years ago, when Torres and Gerrard were at their best, brimming with certainty that, while you had to play well, those two would do more than enough to win the game for you.
Now, you would look around and see Torres a million miles from his best, leaving Gerrard alone to make the difference. It is up to others to step up to the plate. They have not done that for so long that you wonder who is capable of doing so.
It is to Hodgson that the task of turning that around falls, and how he goes about it is something only he can answer. That is how he earns his corn.
But what Liverpool need more than anything is to throw caution aside against Blackburn on Sunday and produce a performance to show the world that they are not finished. Not only that, but a performance to prove to themselves that they cannot possibly be as bad as they are. (© Daily Telegraph, London)