Albion may have been torn apart by Chelsea in their opening fixture, but they showed considerable improvement by beating Sunderland 1-0 in their next game, and against Liverpool they were spirited and resolute. West Brom defended well throughout the game, with Swedish former-Eredivisie defender Olsson particularly authoriative at the back. Liverpool struggled to make an impact on the game in the first half: they lacked pace and were too predictible to penetrate the Albion defence. Much of Liverpool’s approach play was laboured and lacked cohesion; the final ball was all too often inaccurate and the passing erratic. Gerrard and Torres both seemed out of sorts. Torres understandly seemed to be suffering from a shortage of match fitness, whilst Gerrard appeared to be unable to impose himself on the game.
Many of the problems in Liverpool’s play seemed to me more a lack of mental sharpness and communication with teammates rather than an issue with technique or fitness. This is something that can be worked on, and as the influence of Roy Hodgson begins to register, I am convinced that we will start to see an improvement in the team’s style of play.
It’s still early days, after all. The fact that Liverpool were already being written off by some after the defeat by Manchester City is an example of the distorted perspectives at work in today’s game. Everyone was quite rightly praising the 2nd half performance against Arsenal, when we had to demonstrate tremendous character to achieve a result. Very few, if any, journalists and pundits referred to Liverpool’s rather disjointed and awkward first half display, however, or the inability of Anfield debutant Joe Cole to make any kind of meaningful impression on the game. I am not highlighting this to disparage the team – far from it - I am merely pointing out that we won’t just become a fully developed side right away. Consistency and and player chemistry takes time.
For anyone who responds to media hysteria the signs have been ominous from the beginning. Joe Cole was sent off in our first game. He was then far from scintillating in the subsequent European ties. We played poorly against Man City – we were mediocre – new signing Jovanovic looked shell-shocked by his first encounter with quality Premier League opposition, our midfield was overwhelmed and the players were despondent at the end. Surely, it’s the decline of the old regime? Liverpool waning and Man City ascendent? Then there was an unconvincing win against Trabzonspor. Christian Poulsen, Hodgson’s first true signing, has missed a few passes in his first couple of games and been caught out of position from time to time. Now Mascherano, one of our only ‘World Class’ players (that’s an ambigious description if ever there was one… what are the criteria?) leaves us. Liverpool, surely, are well and truly finished. On a number of internet rumours pages, fans were already expressing their dismay about the “asset stripping” of the club, that the signings we have made are failures, that we’d be lucky to finish mid-table.
And yet… Liverpool sell Mascherano but sign Raul Meireles almost immediately, a player that wasn’t even on the media radar, and all of a sudden our midfield seems so much stronger. Hodgson suggests he wants to sign another striker before the transfer deadline, and there’s a fervour of excitement on the forums. Who could it be? As I have discussed earlier, Liverpool have a subdued first half against West Brom but kept working hard and they won the game. Torres scores his first goal of the season, even though he is not yet at his best, sending a warning to our rivals that if he can stay fit he will can be the best striker in the premiership. Sure, we didn’t play “champagne” football but we got the three points. And Man City? The usurpers… destined to hijack our chances of a Champions League place? They lose to Sunderland. How things change. My advice would be to be patient, take a balanced view, and ignore the hyperbole… and the pessimism.
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