Liverpool suffered a frustrating 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland in the Premier League after they never really got started in what was a poor spectacle of a game. There were several reasons why the Reds failed to show their best form.
Kenny Dalglish pulled a couple of surprises in his team selection prior to kick off with the news that Jamie Carragher was left out of the side, presumably with the midweek Merseyside derby in mind, while the fit-again Steven Gerrard was left on the bench alongside him.
The Reds had the greater number of shots in the game for long spells, but none were clear-cut chances of the variety which they have spurned all season. The Sunderland defeat was of a different making altogether.
Here are five reasons why Liverpool suffered their third Premier League defeat in a row.
Liverpool, at their best, are a free-flowing, pass-and-move side that love to get the ball on the deck and open up the pitch to create opportunities.
Disregard the fact that they were nowhere near their best today. Even if they were, the players would have struggled to string together snappy passes over the ground at the Stadium of Light due to the terrible state the pitch was in.
The wide areas of the pitch were almost threadbare for a Premier League stadium, more akin to something you might witness in League One or Two these days, while the rest of the turf cut up extremely quickly as the game went on.
Energy-sapping to run on and difficult to judge the bounce of the ball on, this kind of pitch was not conducive to good football.
Throw in the gusty winds that both sides had to contend with, and it is clear that the match was never going to be a pretty one.
Liverpool have now lost their last three Premier League matches, but those games have come over the space of a full month.
Facing Manchester United on the road, the Reds were never really in the game and lost. Then, two important cup clashes, including the League Cup final, gave Liverpool a break from league action.
Before that, Liverpool had a tough game against top four opponents Spurs. After the final, the home game against Arsenal—another direct rival for a top four spot.
Liverpool played well against the Gunners and were unlucky not to win. But all of those matches that came prior to Sunderland were over-hyped, pressure-fueled, must-win, take your pick of cliché.
The Sunderland game came at the end of a free week of training and without much of the fanfare that would have led up to the other matches.
Thus, Liverpool's players have probably gone into the game without the same sense of pressure and expectation. That would have led, in part, to the dreadful pace and tempo of the game.
Speaking of which...
Jordan Henderson, Jay Spearing, Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy.
Sorry, but it's not exactly a midfield lineup that is going to spook the opposition these days, is it?
With the greatest respect to Spearing, who plays at what is probably his top level each game, the rest were not up to scratch today.
That Spearing is not a world beater even at his best is not the issue; that Liverpool do not have alternatives to turn to is.
Liverpool's approach to the game was slow, tepid, jaded and immobile from the outset. It never got any better, save for a five-minute spell after the double substitution.
Craig Bellamy is fast, but got no service to run in behind the defence other than one time in the first half when he reached the left byline and had a chance to cross.
He did cross, but it was over-hit—and, as usual, Liverpool had nobody in the penalty box anyway.
The rest of the game was more of an approach that hard running up and down the pitch was going to get the Reds something out of the game. It wasn't a measured approach to playing around the Black Cats.
It didn't work.
Some players take a season or so to settle in to a new club.
Some players go through spells of form where they play superbly or terribly.
Some players play just fine, but take a long run of games to hit their top form.
None is the case with Charlie Adam.
He's come into the Liverpool team, had a place in the midfield gifted to him through injuries to first Steven Gerrard and then Lucas Leiva, and has performed to his normal good level in most matches.
The problem is, he is absolutely nothing like what the Reds need.
Forget those 60-yard passes, the driving runs from midfield with the ball at his feet and the whipped in free kicks. He needs to go this summer.
We know what Adam is capable of. He's a good player who has strengths that other players in the squad don't have.
Also, he does not work in the Liverpool side, or the side that Liverpool is trying to be.
His set-piece delivery has been woeful for months now—what that free kick from the right was about in the second half I would like to know. His longer passes go out of play as often as reach their target, and Adam is fast running the risk of becoming an unwitting target for the supporters.
Adam plays well more often than not.
But it isn't nearly enough.
Adam delays and delays and delays his passes. He overruns the ball, makes ridiculous challenges to give away free kicks when the ball would likely be given back anyway and spurns far too many chances around the edge of the box, which he rarely proceeds beyond.
Adam isn't right for Liverpool. The sooner he is taken out of the side, the quicker the team can evolve.
I'm getting tired of going over this one.
Not until after the hour mark did Liverpool finally get more than two people into the penalty box at the same time, other than for set pieces. Even then, there was barely a cross thrown into the middle.
It was a rubbish all-round performance, but the movement off the ball in the final third was a disgrace, to be perfectly honest.
Sunderland out-worked Liverpool to close down the spaces, and nobody in a Red shirt did enough to get around that problem.
Liverpool haven't won in the Premier League since the end of January.
On Tuesday night, they take on Everton in the Merseyside derby in the rearranged Anfield fixture.
I can't think of any better match to turn their league form around in. Quite frankly, five games without a win in the league would be something of a mini-disaster, considering the teams Liverpool have been playing against.
Over to you, Kenny and the players.
Follow the Merseyside derby with our LIVE BLOG on B/R on Tuesday, 13th March. Stay tuned to my page for more details.