The Reds started another league fixture flat and slow, spluttering to a frustrating 0-0 draw against Hull City at Anfield.
Brendan Rodgers altered the side in an attempt to successfully navigate the third of seven matches in 21 days. After the masterclass in precision and professionalism Liverpool received at the feet of Real Madrid midweek, the home crowd was hoping to see their side recover against the Tigers. Yet, this match always looked like two mid-table teams slogging away in an anaemic attacking display.
Hull City controlled things from the opening whistle for nearly the first 10 minutes. It forced Liverpool onto the back foot and unable to get on the ball or a foothold.
After Liverpool won a corner in the 10th minute and Dejan Lovren’s header was cleared off the line by Ahmed Elmohamady, the Reds started to warm into the contest. Moments later, Sterling worked a nice turn to find Balotelli on a diagonal run right of goal, where the striker lashed a laser shot on-target, forcing a save. It was well-worked and well-struck but a tight angle.
In the wake of that chance, supporters began chanting and urging the players’ performance. For a time, Liverpool’s defensive press surged with greater urgency. As they saw more of the ball, the pace of play started to increase on the attack as well. Yet, there were far too few opportunities of quality for the rest of the half.
Despite improving play, Liverpool continue to look like a side with too many players unclear of exactly what they are supposed to be doing. Lack of certainty about individual responsibilities, indecisive runs, lack of awareness where teammates are likely to be continued to amplify the collective anxiety and hesitation. Add to that touches that lack in required sharpness, everything seemed a struggle. With far too much frequency, balls were played just sightly off the mark, too soft, too high, or too late. It all contributed to costly delays, allowing Hull to close down and pressure the ball with even greater strength and effectiveness in dulling Liverpool’s attack.
Emre Can struggled to make an impact, after returning bravely from an ugly early ankle turn. Javier Manquillo was routinely caught high up the pitch. Both Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana were accordingly muted and Balotelli continued to go missing for stretches and push far too much when he was involved.
The malaise and lack of clear cut chances continued to leave Liverpool looking increasingly desperate. So much so that every time a player fell over too easily in the area it seemed to nullify any potentially proper penalty call. Twice in the first half Neil Swarbrick looked the other way, once early and once late.
In the eighth minute, Sterling was barged over from behind in the right corner of the penalty area and the assistant referee pulled him up for his subsequent reaching out and grabbing the ball with his hand on the fall.
In the 36th minute, Lallana broke free scrappily in the left side of the area and was brought down with a late challenge, after barely flicking a cross over the goal mouth.
As the first half closed, Hull regained control. Jake Livermoore had a shot from a snap pass by Hatem Ben Arfa, who had slipped and benefitted from Liverpool’s defense switching off with three minutes left to play.
Liverpool’s return to the way they began the game found them late and chasing, as Hull looked lively with a sequence of clever layoffs that finally found Tom Huddlestone slashing a shot that was deflected for a corner. Ultimately, it was unthreatening and generally symptomatic of Liverpool’s play.
The second half began with no changes for either side and a similar listlessness. As the match advanced, Hull settled into the away side spoiler role, repeatedly challenging with late tackles, many due to Liverpool’s own poor passes. However, the toll sapped and compounded the lack of fluidity for the home side.
Neither goalkeeper was truly challenged for two thirds of the match. Then, in the 61st minute, Philippe Coutinho and Rickie Lambert entered the match for Joe Allen and Adam Lallana. The changes enlivened Liverpool, with Coutinho making an almost immediate impact with his quick one-touch passes and clever runs.
In the 64th minute, Gerrard sent a corner kick to the near post that Can flicked to the far side, where Balotelli was crashing to the net but missed the header entirely. In fact, Balotelli’s frustrations nearly boiled over multiple times in the second half, as the frustration felt by both him and fans intensified. Playing as a single striker has not aided his floundering form and the addition of Lambert up front turned the match in Liverpool’s favour.
Pressure began building, as the Reds probed, and finally pinged passes around the pitch. Lambert showed some composure, holding up the ball and laying it off with greater strength and touch. Hull struggled to regain possession and the Anfield faithful once again rose in songs of support, desperately urging the Reds forward for a deadlock-breaking score.
In the dying minutes, Liverpool tried to oblige, but it was never meant to be. In the 88th minute another potential penalty was waived off, when Balotelli was pushed from behind in the box. While it would have been a soft penalty, it illustrated how many decisions the referee did not make, but even more just how desperate Liverpool as a team have become to score goals.
In the final action, Gerrard nearly found his way through a blockade of defenders in the box, Coutinho miraculously hung onto the ball atop the area, firing a shot, but both efforts resulted in mere corners kicks.
The two combined again to free the Brazilian on the left, racing into the box. He passed to Balotelli, who in an near repeat of the QPR ending, tried to flick in a winner, but Eldin Jakupovic was equal to it.
Frustration and questions continue to mount with little relief and few answers. No goals were conceded but neither were any scored. Ultimately, Liverpool struggled against a mediocre team in mediocre fashion. Rodgers continues to tinker but cannot seem to find a side that clicks. In most matches this campaign at least one player has been clearly off their game. This match saw multiple muted performances. Despite Rodgers’ suggestion that they deserved three points the desperation only increases.