Four Findings: Liverpool @ Hull City via The Bib Theorists
Having lost four straight, Liverpool skidded into Sofia desperate to keep their Champions League hopes alive, while turning around their recent form and fortunes.
The night could not have started more poorly for Liverpool, when after three minutes their defense was scrambling all over the pitch and conceded the opener. Ludogorets advanced directly with pace. Kolo Toure could not clear and Marcelinho lashed 30 yard effort that bounced off Simon Mignolet, in a bungled save attempt. Dani Abalo knocked in the rebound, capping a dream start for the home side.
Five minutes later, Liverpool benefitted from some much needed good fortune when Ludogorets fullback Yordan Minev misplayed a cross, letting it bounce in the penalty area. The ball looped, giving Rickie Lambert time to snap a header across the face of goal and into the side netting.
Clear errors on both ends resulted in each of the first two goals.
For large portions of the first half the Bulgarian side gained the upper hand and looked to go ahead. At times, Liverpool could hardly string more than a pass together, struggling to regain their composure.
In the 37th minute, against the run of play, Liverpool benefitted from another mistake. Ludogorets gave the ball away to Raheem Sterling, who raced down the left channel, before curling a cross low on the far post for a tight angle Jordan Henderson tap in. It was not an easy finish, despite Henderson making it look so.
The second half grew scrappier but produced little more than fits and starts. Apart from one dangerous chance for Sterling to seal it, neither side could craft any true threat.
However, Liverpool dropped deeper, yielding possession and absorbing the Bulgarian side’s pressure. For the final ten minutes, Ludogorets set up shop in the Liverpool defensive end, which would pay dividends.
In the 88th minute, Ludogorets equalized on a late corner. It was a poor kick towards the near post, but the flick by Svetoslav Dyakov found its way to Georgi Terziev, who smashed in a header at the far post. The Reds were beat to each touch in the sequence.
While a draw keeps Liverpool in the tournament with control of their own fate, this one has to feel like another defeat. The Reds were a few minutes away from grinding out the kind of away European win, upon which they could potentially build some confidence. However, the Merseysiders failed to hang on. They continue to miss opportunities but at least stopped the slide before hosting Stoke City at the weekend.
News of Daniel Sturridge injuring his thigh fell hard on Merseyside this week, but the mood only darkened after Liverpool lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace at a soggy Selhurst Park.
International breaks, combined with poor performances, continue to wreak havoc on the Reds’ current campaign. More injuries, this time to Jordan Henderson and Mario Balotelli, forced manager Brendan Rodgers into some lineup changes, giving Rickie Lambert his second start.
The move looked to pay dividends from the start, as Lambert netted his first goal for the club in the second minute of the match. Receiving an excellent diagonal pass over the top from former Southampton teammate Adam Lallana in a deep midfield position, Lambert darted into the penalty area from the left. A sublime first touch and a cool finish opened both his and the Reds’ scoring account. It was a well-worked goal, almost training ground stuff from the visitors.
However, the early tally would be the height of Liverpool’s performance on the afternoon. Almost immediately from the ensuing kickoff Crystal Palace caused a scare. Still, Liverpool were able to regain composure and possession, cautiously moving the ball around the back, rarely advancing beyond midfield.
To their credit, Palace were prepared to drop deep banks of four and absorb any real Liverpool threat. Apart from a handful of offsides, the Reds were unable to build on the early lead and capitalise on the bright start.
Then in the 17th minute, Liverpool conceded the equalizer. After dealing a minor cut to the head of Joe Allen, who needed to receive treatment, Yannick Bolasie carved open the Liverpool defense. Driving hard into the middle of the pitch, Bolasie unleashed a rocket shot that would ping off the post and rebound to a fast-reacting Dwight Gayle for an easy equalizer.
The goal breathed life into the Selhurst Park faithful and the home side who grew even more resolute in the desire to catch Liverpool on the counter attack with pace and power. Bolasie, in particular, caused all kinds of problems for a Reds defense that looked increasingly slow and shabby after conceding.
Space between Liverpool’s attacking line and midfield widened as midfielders continued to drop deeper in their effort to pick the ball up from a defense that was shaky playing a high line. Combined with little movement or outlets available up front, Crystal Palace easily absorbed any attack prior to the final third.
In the 34th minute, the Reds mounted a counter attack of their own, when Allen drove down the left side before peeling back and crossing a quality ball to Lambert on the far post, but the striker couldn’t find the target. It was the best threat Liverpool would mount in the first half after the early goal.
The second half started with no changes from either side and proved equally sloppy as the first. Liverpool continued to concede ground, combined with poor clearances, and looked vulnerable defensively. In attack, it seemed that the best threat would come from hopeful free kick opportunities. Steven Gerrard, however, could not put any of his chances on goal, repeatedly firing high and wide from a variety of dead ball positions.
After an hour, the game began to grow increasingly stretched as each side tried to break the stalemate. The Eagles began to press forward, routinely building attacks from poor Liverpool clearances and inability to maintain any kind of sustained possession.
The 70th minute was illustrative of the match for most of the second half, when Liverpool advanced in numbers, Glen Johnson crossing a dangerous ball that tempted Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni off the line to knock the ball down. With no Reds runners following up, the ball was cleared quickly for what nearly developed as a dangerous three-on-two break the other way for Palace. One of the few poor touches by Bolasie would see the counter falter.
Liverpool did try to throw numbers forward in an attempt to get a win. Yet, the final ball continued to be wanting and Palace easily scuppered anything that entered the box.
Beginning in the 72nd minute a series of three substitutions every two minutes slowed the match for both sides temporarily. Liverpool’s Fabio Borini replaced Lallana, and Emre Can substituted Allen. Then James MacArthur came on for the home side, taking off Jason Puncheon.
Soon after, Palace’s Bolasie, who had switched to the right side, easily rounded Dejan Lovren on his way into the penalty area, before cutting the ball back to a wide open Joe Ledley, who calmly slotted home the finish.
Three minutes later, the match would be put out of reach entirely. After a marginally dodgy foul by Martin Skrtel, Palace were awarded a free kick centrally, about 25 yards from goal. Eagle’s captain, Mile Jedinak then curled an exquisite right footed strike into the top corner of the goal. Despite Simon Mignolet’s efforts to reach it, there was not stopping it.
From that point, Palace coasted to victory sustaining possession and bossing the match past a physically and mentally fatigued Liverpool.
In spite of the positive start, Liverpool again conceded and looked bereft of solutions to the problems that only have deepened for the club. Rodgers too seems unable to remedy the troubles that have now undoubtedly destroyed any fragile confidence that his side has been able to muster.
Defensively, the Reds continue to be easily pulled out of position and exploited by pace and power. Additionally, the inability to address arial attacks seems to worsen with each match. The midfield continues to be overrun and outnumbered, causing countless disruptions to any sustained effort at seizing control and building an attack. Few genuine goalscoring chances are being created and even fewer goals are being scored.
Twelve matches into the season, Liverpool are currently not even a shadow of the swashbuckling side that took the Premier League by storm last year. Perhaps more worrying, every time it seem as though the side has hit bottom, they find a way to fall a little further.