By James McManus
Of all the madcap opening-day results, Liverpool’s resounding defeat at the Hawthorns was perhaps the most eye-catching, as the hope and optimism were quickly punctured by a rampant West Brom side.
While a dampener may have been put on the positive atmosphere that has surrounded the Anfield club recently, it merely reinforces the point that the job on Brendan Rodgers’ hands is a long-term one that needs seeing through.
During the opening 45 minutes, Liverpool bossed proceedings but showed in the process that old habits do indeed die hard, with Luis Suarez at his profligate worst in front of goal as the side wasted a glut of gilt-edged chances.
For their part, West Brom were excellent and, Zoltan Gera’s stunning strike aside, they were a completely different proposition in the second half, when they managed to add a degree of guile to their all-action style.
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| FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY
|18′||WHAT A GOOOOAAAAL!! 1-0 West Brom and it’s Zoltan Gera with an absolute screamer. The Baggies’ corner was initially headed clear but the ball only went as far the midfielder, who took one touch with the chest to compose himself before volleying it into the top corner. Pepe Reina with no chance.|
|64′||SECOND PENALTY TO WEST BROM! It’s Long who wins it again. After stealing the ball from Skrtel’s feet, the striker goes down and the referee says penalty … GOOAALL!! Odemwingie makes no mistake and finds the net. 2-0.|
|77′||GOOAAL!! 3-0 to West Brom – told you they weren’t done! Lukaku has looked bright ever since coming on and he now has the ball in the back of the net. Liverpool failed to clear the corner, leaving Ridgewell free to dink a lovely cross from the left to the far post where the Belgian international was waiting to head home from close range.|
It’s tempting to focus on the negatives whenever a big club is involved in a heavy defeat, but credit is due to the hosts for an astounding performance, with both Youssuf Mulumbu and new signing Claudio Yacob superb in the middle of the park.
Baggies boss Steve Clarke, who left the club as Kenny Dalglish’s assistant in the summer prior to Rodgers’ appointment, has attempted to play down any ill will between the two parties but, in his first competitive fixture as a manager, he undoubtedly had a wider point to prove to his doubters.
He said after the game: “The manner of departure from Liverpool is not an issue. That’s what happens in football these days. It doesn’t give me any extra satisfaction winning this game. If I was sitting here and we had played someone else and won, I would be just as happy. I’ve got no axe to grind with Liverpool.”
Nevertheless, much in the same way that Roy Hodgson must have felt vindicated after winning at Anfield last April over his former employers, Clarke must have enjoyed a certain satisfaction at getting one over the club that dispensed with his and Dalglish’s ‘project’ in the summer in favour of Rodgers’ bright and bold new vision.
There are also factors to consider with concerns to Liverpool’s own performance and, while the red card and two penalty decisions could be said to be edging towards harsh, Rodgers is in the process of tinkering with and adjusting not only the team’s style, but the system in which they play and there are bound to be inconsistent performances along the way.
In the final few months of Dalglish’s reign as boss, the side lacked direction, focus and a clear plan of action on how to impose themselves on the opposition; the gaps between the defence and the midfield were absolutely huge, but, in a relatively short space of time, Rodgers is re-shaping this side in his image and there is at least a coherent ethos towards which to work now.
In the aftermath of the defeat, patience was the watchword, according to the former Swansea City manager.
“We showed some signs of our quality but the penalties and the sending-off kills you, especially a new team coming together,” he declared. “But I’ve got to give big credit to the players. They ran to a standstill today and I can’t complain.
“It is still a work in progress. It is very much a marathon we are in. This is the first game. We’ve got to win games. I’ve heard lots about patience and every manager wants that. But nowadays you don’t get that. We’ve got to win games. It was a bad day in the office.”
An emphasis on retaining possession is now of paramount importance and the sight of Rodgers screaming from the touchline at Jonjo Shelvey for an aimless long ball forward in the 3-0 win at Anfield over FC Gomel in the Europa League just drills home the fact that the players are still learning to adapt to his methods.
While the same old problems may still be present, they are far from systemic and this is still very early on in his tenure. It is difficult to truly judge the side at this point and it would be patently ridiculous to do so, particularly when you consider that Rodgers is in the midst of blooding in two of his new summer signings – Joe Allen and Fabio Borini – in key and influential positions.
Any talk of a top-four push this term prior to kick-off was fanciful to say the least and has been put into even more perspective by the one-sided nature of the defeat. This is a team in transition and coming to terms with a new identity, a certain Jekyll-and-Hyde nature is merely just par for the course.
It’s worth remembering that Liverpool began their campaign today with their fourth different manager in charge in as many seasons – to put that into context, the previous four managers before that had their spells in charge spread over 19 years.
Liverpool finished eighth last season, the club’s lowest league finish for 18 years – they ended up closer to Wolves at the bottom of the table in terms of their points tally by the final game of the season than they were to both Manchester clubs at the top.
Rodgers sagely opined in the aftermath of the defeat: “We’ll have more days like this along the way, that’s the reality of it,” and there can be no better way to sum up the size of the job on his hands than that.
Change takes time, adapting to a new philosophy even longer and the club must be patient in the short-term, if they want to see any long-term benefits. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the old adage goes, and calm heads are required when looking at the wider picture here.
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