Brendan Rodgers had a day to forget in his first Premier League match in charge of Liverpool. The Reds went to West Brom and were beaten 3-0 largely due to Shane Long's ingenuity and a poor Liverpool performance that greatly resembled the Reds of the last few seasons.
Liverpool dominated possession and controlled the flow of the game in the first half, but they failed to create many chances out of it, and when they did, they couldn't make them count.
Then, minutes before halftime, Zoltan Gera punished the Reds with a stunning shot out of nothing. You'd think Liverpool would expect that by now.
Worst of all for Rodgers and Liverpool was that Rodgers' former club Swansea were rampant at Queens Park Rangers and went home with a 5-0 win. Meanwhile, Liverpool target Clint Dempsey sat out and watched his Fulham side demolish Norwich City 5-0 without him.
There were no bright spots for Liverpool Saturday but plenty of question marks.
Defense Having Trouble Adjusting
In the first 45, Liverpool's defense was at times shaky and didn't communicate well with each other. That is very troubling considering Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and goalkeeper Pepe Reina have been with Liverpool for years.
Skrtel and Agger got away with a few slack clearances early on, and Reina didn't have a thing to do in the first half, so it just seemed like early-season jitters.
The first goal was solely down to great control and a wonder shot from Zoltan Gera—no faulting the defense there.
When the second half got underway, though, Skrtel and Agger weren't up to the races, and they couldn't deal with Shane Long's persistence and pace especially.
A giveaway by Steven Gerrard in West Brom's box lead to a fast break, Martin Skrtel gambled in the midfield, and Shane Long was off on his own. With his side already a goal down on the road, Agger was probably foolish to even attempt a challenge, and despite it being a very soft penalty and Long going down far too easily, it was the right call, and Phil Dowd had no choice but to produce a red card.
Long gave Liverpool a lifeline, though, with an extremely poor penalty, which Reina saved, but the traveling Kop was not singing for Long.
Just minutes later, Skrtel was careless in possession in the box, Long ghosted in behind him, and Skrtel had no choice but the clip him, resulting in another penalty, which Peter Odemwingie duly put away.
With Agger and Skrtel both being courted over the summer, neither did much to entice their suitors in the opening match.
Last season, it was Liverpool's offense that cost them numerous points, while the defense was solid and kept them in more matches than they deserved. The Reds can't afford both sides of the pitch to play so poorly as one mistake can often decide a match.
Can't Blame the Ref
Phil Dowd didn't have a good performance to start the season.
Liverpool fans could argue a few of their players were awarded unfair yellow cards, that the Reds were mistakenly called offside several times in the first half, that both penalties were soft and Luis Suarez never would've received the same result and that Liverpool themselves deserved a penalty in the second half.
And they would be right.
Brendan Rodgers himself called the penalties "harsh" during his postgame press conference, and he insinuated that Shane Long was looking for the penalty in both cases and went down with minimal contact.
But give blame where blame is due.
Liverpool were entirely their own downfall at West Brom. Lack of concentration in defense led to both penalties. Shane Long was a nuisance all day long, and Liverpool just couldn't handle him.
At the other end of the pitch, Liverpool only forced one difficult save out of Ben Foster, and it came very early on off a Luis Suarez shot from distance. Suarez later missed a couple chances you would've expected him to bury.
It wasn't the Uruguayan's day, though, and his new strike partner Fabio Borini couldn't keep up with England's physicality and pace.
The referee and his assistants made a few dodgy calls, but Liverpool's were worse.
Brendan Rodgers Needs Bigger Aspirations
Everyone knows Liverpool want a top-four finish, but new manager Rodgers doesn't want to come out and say it. He wants to take things slow and not set any targets just yet.
Maybe that's a good idea at Swansea when you've just been promoted, but Liverpool have big expectations—realistic or not—and the manager needs to know that.
Aside from some bad luck Saturday, Liverpool's 4-3-3 wasn't working, and they weren't causing any problems for the West Brom defense. Rodgers waited until it was too late to make changes, even with the likes of Andy Carroll, Jonjo Shelvey, Charlie Adam and (gasp) Joe Cole on the bench.
Rodgers' summer signings Joe Allen, from Swansea, and Fabio Borini were both non-factors for much of the match at West Brom, and the new manager has two weeks left to decide if he wants to bring in anyone new or trust his system to work itself out.
After the defeat, Rodgers told reporters that Liverpool's transformation will be a "long journey," which fans understand, and one poor match in no way puts him on the hot seat.
However, Rodgers can't deny Liverpool's aspirations for this and every season: to be in the Champions League. That's just not going to change anytime soon.
Why It Really, Really Hurts
Liverpool's next four matches in the Premier League are Manchester City at home, Arsenal at home, Sunderland away and Manchester United at home. No disrespect to Sunderland, but that's not a game Rodgers and Co. will look at and tremble compared to the other three.
The good thing is those other matches are at Anfield. The bad thing is last season's top three are much stronger than the Reds, and Anfield is no longer the fortress Reds fans are used to.
Before the West Brom game, it was hard to see Liverpool winning two of those games. After the West Brom performance, prospects look very poor going into those three games.
You can't lose a top-four spot in September, but a poor start is very hard to recover from, and catching up isn't what the Reds want to be doing all season long.
Liverpool needed at least a draw at the Hawthorns, but they didn't deserve one. Now, there is so much more riding on the next four matches than there was before Saturday.
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