x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

No case for defence as blunder costs Liverpool two points at West Brom

Brendan Rodgers's side continue to be affected by the malaise at the back. Their fragility made it all the odder that their transfer-window objective was to secure another creator, writes Richard Jolly.

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and forward Luis Suarez cut a sorry figure after a blunder cost them a win against West Bromwich Albion. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and forward Luis Suarez cut a sorry figure after a blunder cost them a win against West Bromwich Albion. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

WEST BROMWICH // There was uproar among the Liverpool fan base. How had they missed their target? How costly could it prove? Why were they not competent enough to see it through to the bitter end and emerge winners?

That was the end of transfer deadline day, the frustration on Friday when they could not complete the signing of Ukraine international Yevhen Konoplyanka.

Yet, if Liverpool fail to finish in the top four and do not realise their goal of returning to the Uefa Champions League, it will not be because of a lack of wingers, no matter how gifted.

It will be because of poor and porous defending. It will be because of mediocre away form. It will because of a propensity to gift their opponents chances. Liverpool have become a friendlier club in Brendan Rodgers’s reign, but they display a generosity to rivals.

Victor Anichebe is an old enemy, an Evertonian who has moved to the Midlands.

Nevertheless, the West Bromwich Albion striker was the recipient of a gift when Kolo Toure picked him out with a square pass, just outside his own penalty area.

A grateful Anichebe duly capitalised, drilling a shot past Simon Mignolet.

“It was one of those unfortunate things,” said Rodgers. “We made a mistake and get punished. Hopefully in the future we will see it as a point gained.”

Now, however, it was harder to view it positively. Rather than going four points clear of Everton, Liverpool were pegged back by the man Roberto Martinez sold in September. This proved Anichebe’s final favour to his former club and constituted the substitute’s case to start more often.

For Pepe Mel, the Albion coach, it proved the merits of a pressing game.

For an apologetic Toure, it was a hideous moment. “He is devastated,” Rodgers said. “He has misplaced the pass and unfortunately for us it has cost us two points.”

In isolation, the result is respectable. It was the context that rendered it worrying.

It was the reality that Liverpool led and had the chances to go two goals ahead. It was the way they seemed in control, only to lose their way.

There was further evidence of their fragility which made it all the odder that their transfer-window objective was to secure another creator.

Stopping goals, not scoring them, is Liverpool’s problem. But for a welcome return to form from Mignolet, they might have been condemned to defeat.

The Belgian blocked Chris Brunt’s free kick. More impressively, he flung himself to his left to repel Gareth McAuley’s emphatic header.

The sight of the Northern Irishman climbing high above Martin Skrtel was a reminder that the Slovakian, supposedly the defensive linchpin, struggles with the basics of set-piece marking.

“I don’t think you can argue with the defence,” said Rodgers, but that was not a particularly convincing analysis.

His captain Steven Gerrard played so deep he was more Beckenbauer than Beckham, seemingly dropping in to take responsibility and camouflage for the deficiencies around him.

When a side boasts a holding midfielder with 165 career goals, it is one sign of how attack-minded it is.

They are epitomised by their two strikers and, if this was not an occasion when Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge ran riot, they nevertheless combined for the opening goal.

Suarez’s capacity to find space in a packed penalty box was illustrated again as he darted outside Raheem Sterling to collect the winger’s pass.

A lovely dinked cross to the far post followed and Sturridge, with a sense of stealth, emerged untracked to volley it in.

The Uruguayan almost marked the third anniversary of his Liverpool debut with a goal but, after exquisite skill from Suarez, Ben Foster saved. “A great block,” said Rodgers, left to rue the one that got away. He reflected, too, on the inability to secure Konoplyanka’s signature.

“The football club did everything possible to get the player in in every aspect: we had the finance, we had the doctor out there, the chief scout, everyone. [Managing director] Ian Ayre did a brilliant job negotiating, the money wasn’t the problem. I feel really sorry for the player. He was desperate to come to one of the biggest clubs in the world. It just wasn’t to be.”

In one sentence, once again, the Konoplyanka deal was a metaphor for the match.

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