After four matches with 15 goals, you’d think that Brendan Rodgers has learned from his mistakes, but apprently, it takes more than half of a season of trial & error to remember that A) Martin Skrtel is an international centre back, but not a very good one and B) Joe Allen shouldn’t start in matches or be left alone in the defensive midfield.
The result? Liverpool lost 3-1 to Southampton, their first defeat since dropping a home match against West Brom, and their chances of European qualification grow slimmer while Arsenal and Everton both picked up wins. And while the Skrtel mistake was pretty much unavoidable due to Jamie Carragher being unavailable, Joe Allen is something we’ve all learnt, doesn’t work. With Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson both being fit and available, it was even more baffling.
With that kind of uncertainty in the back and the defensive midfield, Liverpool’s weak spots during their lower points of the season, it doesn’t really matter that Rodgers started with his bingo trio at the front – Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, who scored a goal that gave Liverpool some hope before a disappointing second half ensued.
But the inclusion of Joe Allen doesn’t just weaken the defensive midfield because of his ability – it ruins the match for Steven Gerrard, and it was obvious since Lucas’ return just how good Gerrard has been – how much more influential and connected he was with Suarez and the rest of the attack, being allowed to focus much less on defending, which simply doesn’t happen when Joe Allen is on the pitch, not being the player who should be providing the cover for the rest of the attacking players, as his skills and physical abilities simply don’t fit the bill.
Southampton played with five midfielders, pressing high. Joe Allen isn’t going to deal with that kind of pressure, not even on his good day, when he’s completely fit, not carrying a shoulder injury he needs to have surgery on. Brendan Rodgers thought that the attacking prowess he enjoyed in recent weeks will take care of that for him, but almost everything good for attacking football starts from behind. There are very few bluffs in football, and few teams actually succeed with a terrible defense and shaky midfield situation.
Inconsistency has been the name of Brendan Rodgers’ tenure – from finally beating a team like Tottenham, a team ranked higher than Liverpool, comes a loss against a physical yet limited side like Southampton, that might have been better dealt with if Rodgers would have picked a different lineup. And there are the personal responsibilities as well – Suarez and Sturridge were both much too selfish, stuck and concentrated on their own game instead of the the other’s, leading to frustrating attacks that ended up with nothing.
Europe isn’t gone, but that chances are slimming, with Liverpool in need of a brilliant finish and a little help from other teams. They still have the derby that is even more crucial than in previous years, as many people will find it very hard to believe they’ll be finishing behind their city rivals for a second consecutive season, with no European football to play for in 2013-2014.