Now that the dust has settled on what was a disappointing day, it is time to decipher exactly what went wrong and who was to blame for our catastrophic cup exit.
First things first; the team that Brendan Rodgers chose to start the match with was, on paper, a very strong one.
It was a team that ultimately gave Liverpool fans confidence that it held enough quality to overcome Oldham – a side 56 places below the Reds in the English league system.
Names such as Skrtel, Henderson, Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez immediately jumped out and suggested that the firepower was there should this match require anything more than a steady canter. After close inspection of the team, it became clear that due to the nature of the XI, one or more players would be playing out of position; not a wise decision against a determined lower league outfit.
It was evident from the first minute that Rodgers had gone for too many attack-minded players and not enough defensive cover. The contest became a physical assessment for the Reds from the first minute and their cause wasn’t helped by the fact that Rodgers had gone with a team that consisted of just three outfield players over 6 feet tall (Skrtel, Coates, Wisdom).
The game started pretty much as it meant to go on. Two minutes in, and following gritty determined play from Oldham winger Youssouf M’Changama, powerful forward Matt Smith rose above a complacent Sebastian Coates to head home the opening goal. Therein lay a major factor for the defeat – Coates.
The Uruguayan struggled throughout and could not handle the beastly presence of Matt Smith. It was a stark reminder that the centre-back is far from ready for the battling nature of English football. Despite it being an issue in itself, the need for Coates to go out on loan and gain some valuable experience is vital in order for him to progress at Liverpool.
The game cried out for an experienced head and, in hindsight, it would have made much more sense for Jamie Carragher to start ahead of Coates. Carra has the experience of facing inspired underdogs and would have not been daunted by the battle against unknown quantities such as Smith.
The likes of Jack Robinson and Joe Allen suffered from the brutal nature of the game. Robinson is very lightweight for a defender and it was his failure to challenge Reece Wabara that led to Oldham’s second goal. The 19-year olds performance was yet more evidence that Liverpool are in desperate need for another left-back to adequately cover or challenge Jose Enrique.
As for Allen, the Welshman looked lost in the midfield for large periods of the game. To his credit, the ex-Swansea man gets stuck in when it is needed; however, at just 5 feet 6 inches tall there is only so much he can endure before he becomes nothing but a small obstacle to overcome in the midfield. There is no doubt that Allen also suffers when Lucas is absent as he is forced to concentrate on more than just his passing game he is renowned for.
Further up the field, Fabio Borini, looking to impress following a long injury lay- off, resembled that of a recently decapitated item of poultry. At one point, I thought I had gone back in time and was watching a young Milan Baros with a brand new hairstyle. His runs are aimless and his touch and vision are non- existent.
Liverpool fans are usually, excluding Lucas, well-known for their patience and support for new signings and Borini will be given the chance to prove his worth. Having said that, now is the time for the young lad to spend less time with his hair products and more time on the training field to improve his overall game.
Suarez and Sturridge both struggled. Sturridge failed to impose himself enough on the game and was found guilty of snatching at the chances he was presented with due to the frustration of being behind. As for Suarez, despite scoring, he was often smothered by two or three Oldham players each time he had the ball and was unable to produce the magic that would have potentially seen us through.
So, who is to blame? All in all, Rodgers picked the wrong team and the wrong formation. On another day, especially if Brad Jones hadn’t dropped that clanger for their second goal, the Reds could have got lucky and sneaked through – or at least took Oldham to Anfield for a replay.
The real reason behind the defeat belongs to a phrase that has haunted Liverpool fans for years – ‘lack of strength in depth’. It may agitate the fans and the management; however, it is an accurate analysis of Liverpool’s current crop of players. With both Gerrard and Lucas in need of a break, the Reds did not have sufficient cover for the roles they supply the team with. Nobody was able to step in and link the midfield to the attack as well as Gerrard does and, similarly, there wasn’t one player on the pitch who was able to stop the opposition linking their midfield to their impressive forwards in the style of Lucas.
We have to take it on the chin and move on. Onwards and upwards to Wednesday – Arsenal away. A massive game. We have to get behind the team as we attempt to fight for the much coveted European places.
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