Liverpool: 7 Reasons Why the Reds Were Soundly Beaten by Bolton Wanderers
From the first whistle the signs were there that Liverpool were not at their best, though as the game progressed there were many reasons why the Reds lost.
After Chelsea and Newcastle United both dropped points earlier in the day, this match was a big chance for Liverpool to put themselves right back in the race for fourth spot, against a team who had won just once at home all season until now.
With little heed paid to the forthcoming big cup matches, Kenny Dalglish selected arguably his strongest available side to play Bolton, but it was far from enough to take anything from the game in what was probably the Reds' poorest display of the current campaign.
Here are seven reasons why Liverpool were beaten so disappointingly by Bolton.
Sloppy in Possession from the Start of the Game
Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish have become known once more for displays of possession-based football: crisp and sharp passes, one and two touch football.
Sometimes, perhaps, even at the expense of actually going on and creating a decent chance, Liverpool have generally been good at ball retention and keeping opponents pegged back into their own half.
Against Bolton, from the very first minute Liverpool were extremely sloppy in possession.
They took too many touches, went infield constantly instead of opening the pitch wider, played aimless first-time hits out of play and failed to find teammates with straightforward 10 or 15-yard passes.
Charlie Adam was a big culprit in the first half of gifting possession to Bolton, but others such as Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson were similarly guilty.
Even when Liverpool did retain the ball, the control was often poor or without forethought of what to do next, meaning an extra touch was needed to get the ball where the players wanted it.
Perhaps the pitch wasn't the best, but Liverpool were very disappointing on the ball and the fact that goals came from giving possession away cheaply indicates what a bad day this was for the Reds.
Poor Individual Displays
It is often said about new signings, "That's his best display in a red/blue/green shirt so far."
Well, for Jose Enrique today it was unfortunately a case of the reverse.
He had a nightmarish first 45 minutes against Bolton, easily the worst of his short Reds career until now.
Enrique was hustled off the ball, beaten for pace, unable to drive forward or link up with his midfield teammates and came close to gifting a second early goal after Chris Eagles, that burly specimen of a man, barged the Spaniard off the ball and fired across the face of Reina's goal.
He wasn't alone though; Charlie Adam, Martin Skrtel, Jordan Henderson and one or two others in a Red shirt were all below-par against the Trotters.
Liverpool don't have enough stars in their team that they can carry so many under-performers on any given day, and it showed against Bolton.
Not Enough Hard Work / Discipline in Midfield
Both of Bolton's first two goals came from simple, straight-as-an-arrow runs from deep by two midfielders.
Both goals should have been very easily stopped and avoided.
It is easy to say that Lucas Leiva would have prevented the runs going as far as they did had he been fit, but since Liverpool don't have the Brazilian available now, it is up to other midfielders to do the job in his absence.
Charlie Adam and Steven Gerrard were charged with holding the middle of the park for the majority of the game, and between them they failed rather abjectly to do so.
Mark Davies constantly gave the Liverpool back line trouble in the first half, simply by standing ten yards behind the two-versus-two battle in central midfield, leaving him free to pick up any passes which were played beyond the Adam-Gerrard duo.
It's not rocket science, but it perhaps does take some getting used to if both players are more comfortable having a deeper-lying partner in the middle.
But in the end, someone has to take responsibility to track the runners. Nobody did, and in the end the Reds were punished—not once, but twice.
In addition, Adam gave away his usual bout of soft, stupid free kicks by barging into opponents after the ball had been played, one of which almost ended up as a third goal for Bolton just before halftime.
If those two are selected in midfield again in the forthcoming matches, they must do much, much better.
No Support in the Box from Midfield
On paper it looked as though Liverpool were going to line up with a 4-3-3 system or similar, with Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy supporting either side of Andy Carroll.
In the end, Maxi and Jordan Henderson played on the left and right flanks respectively, with Carroll partnered by Bellamy up front.
Fine, in principle, but the four midfielders failed entirely to offer any kind of support to the front two where it really mattered.
It was a very structured defence-midfield-attack from Liverpool against Bolton, which is neither what Reds fans are accustomed to see nor what is required to break down teams with regularity in the Premier League.
Henderson from the right never once got into the penalty box as an extra attacker, only managing one shot from just outside the box, while neither Adam nor Gerrard showed any regular ambition to do the same.
Gerrard did get there a couple of times; once he fired to the near post and on another occasion the ball never got to him when he was in space, but for an entire game it was poor adventurism from the midfield pair.
Maxi Rodriguez probably had the best chance of any of the four when he hand-balled a Reina pass in the Bolton box instead of controlling the ball and smashing it in, but beyond that it was a pretty dismal display from the Argentine in terms of offering a real threat on goal.
Not Countering the Threats of Bolton
I'll admit to being perplexed at the 4-4-2 shape from Liverpool against Bolton.
The home side loaded the midfield area and left David Ngog, formerly of the Reds, up front on his own.
Bolton have played this system in most games recently, and the way to negate their influence in this system should have been clear to Liverpool.
Beat them in midfield. Retain possession higher up the pitch whenever possible. Isolate Ngog.
None of Bolton's attacking midfielders, while being technically proficient, are exactly lightning quick, but by letting them win the midfield battle with an extra man, Liverpool allowed the Trotters to get support next to and even beyond Ngog with increasing regularity.
After this went on for some time and Liverpool still hadn't kept the ball well enough, it was surely time to move Jordan Henderson more centrally and try to force the game.
In addition, the areas in which Bolton have really struggled this season have been from delivery into the box from wide zones. With Maxi cutting in from the left onto his right foot, Henderson trying to get on the ball in deeper areas and neither full-back bombing on to put crosses into the box, Liverpool never once looked like exploiting this weakness on a regular basis.
Unfortunately for the Reds, by the time any tactical changes came with the double substitution, they were already down 3-1.
Slow Tempo on the Ball and Little Build-Up in the Final Third
Again, this links back to the first slide where we acknowledged Liverpool were far too sloppy in possession in general.
Another facet of that approach was that the build-up play from Liverpool was far too slow, far too predictable and far too methodical—when enough passes were strung together to be classed as methodical—that the Bolton defence was easily able to readjust themselves to counter any threatening play from the Reds.
Nobody made a break from midfield to join the attack, nobody really opened up the pitch by keeping a high line on the flanks and certainly nobody apart from Daniel Agger looked to move forward at pace with the ball at their feet.
There were only two types of approach from Liverpool: hit the channels for Craig Bellamy to run onto with his pace, or hit it towards Andy Carroll to flick on or try to hold up.
Both forwards did these two things pretty well, to be fair, but hopeful flick-ons and blind-alley runs alone are never enough to win many Premier League matches.
No in-Form Attacking Quality on the Bench
Down 3-1 to Bolton with most of the second half to go, Kopites' thoughts might have turned to how a call from the bench could swing the match in Liverpool's favour.
A glance down the list of names, however, was probably enough to suggest that this was not going to be Liverpool's day.
A vastly out-of-form Dirk Kuyt; an as-yet unimpressive Stewart Downing, who has ranged between average to poor over the past couple of months; and Jonjo Shelvey, who, though he played well against Aston Villa in his only Premier League start to date, has not exactly been flush with playing time recently.
Beyond those three were a goalkeeper in Doni and three defenders (Seb Coates, Jamie Carragher and Martin Kelly).
Kenny Dalglish, quite reasonably, went for his best available players in terms of form and system, but when they failed on the day there was nothing else to turn to.
Certain players wearing the Red of Liverpool this season need to pick themselves up, and quickly.
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