Rodgers' limp Reds hit with reality check
Hull City 3 Liverpool 1
The admission from Brendan Rodgers was as startling as the ineptitude of Liverpool's performance against Hull City.
"There's no doubt our quality in our squad, with all due respect, isn't big enough to cope with two big players like that (Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge) missing," he said after watching his side lose 3-1.
Two, just two, players are forced out – Coutinho started on the bench – and it all becomes rather too much like pre-January 2013 for Liverpool.
It's taken a bit longer than usual, but yet again the club will head into a transfer window amid a clamour for new recruits.
The inference from Rodgers can't be brushed aside. The club's much lauded transfer committee spent £50m on eight players last summer.
Here they are again, still a couple of recruits from looking capable of a Champions League return and a few injuries from being thrust into what's become an annual scrap to finish above seventh.
Hull City took advantage of Rodgers' need to utilise the fullness of his squad, not just deserving their victory, but raising deeper questions as to whether Liverpool's decent start to the campaign is about to unravel.
It may seem harsh given Liverpool were second at the start of the day, but the hints were there prior to Jake Livermore, David Meyler and a Martin Skrtel own goal inflicting this damage.
This may only have been the Merseyside club's third defeat of the season, but the last time they won away from home (at Sunderland in September) their opponent did not have a manager.
Poor at Newcastle, outplayed at Arsenal and fortunate a week ago at Goodison Park, they were dire at the KC Stadium.
The sense of foreboding was apparent as soon as the team sheet was printed.
You'll recall those dark days on Merseyside at the start of last season, the club languishing in mid-table, applying the doctrine of possession football but ultimately relying on a second of individual brilliance, usually from Luis Suarez, to win a game or take a point.
It began to change when Sturridge and Coutinho signed, two players having that rare effect of recent signings of being instantly impressive upon walking through the Shankly Gates.
Here – and much credit must go to the vastly underrated Steve Bruce for the superb exposing of Liverpool's weaknesses – we witnessed why they've become as critical as Suarez. Their replacements have shown nothing to suggest they can fill the void.
Victor Moses and Raheem Sterling should have relished an opportunity to prove the last few months of bench duty was a waste of their talent.
Sterling continues to struggle to justify the hype that elevated him to an England call-up. Yes, he is a teenager, but for those with memories of Fowler, Owen and Gerrard at the same age, the months of haggling over his contract last season look preposterously premature.
Moses, meanwhile, was quoted suggesting his lack of action was stopping him accumulating a target of 20 goals this season. He was voted Nigeria's player of the year this week. The runner-up in that poll must have had a shocking dip in form. All Moses' performance achieved was confirmation that when Chelsea start sending players on loan, Everton are getting the better deals.
It was Moses's lethargic flick on 16 minutes that enabled Livermore to give Hull the lead. There was some fortune as it deflected off Skrtel beyond Simon Mignolet, but Liverpool could hardly bemoan their luck.
They equalised 11 minutes later because they've become something of set-piece specialists in the last fortnight.
Curtis Davies tripped Jordan Henderson, who was playing in an advanced midfield role, and Steven Gerrard stepped up to place the kick beyond Allan McGregor.
Hull simply regrouped, denying Liverpool any space and countering dangerously. Tom Huddlestone's elegant display was a reminder to Liverpool it is possible to sign midfielders who can pass more than six yards with both feet.
Bruce ordered his side to allow the visitors possession in their own half with the confidence they weren't threatening to do much with it, but when called upon to defend the visitors were pedestrian.
Meyler shot across Mignolet to restore the lead on 72 minutes, and Skrtel ensured there would be no anxious finale, heading into his own net with four minutes left.
Liverpool looked shambolic in the closing stages, and will face a daunting Christmas during which their credentials will come under further scrutiny.
"It's an understatement to say it was disappointing," said Rodgers. "We lacked quality with the ball. We never created enough or kept the ball long enough in order to move them about."
Hull City's supporters began the day planning a demonstration against their owner's name change, but ended it feeling like they'd finally arrived in the Premier League.
They may not like the idea of being rebranded as tigers, but their players certainly fought like them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)