Liverpool's results haven't always measured up to their overall performances so far this season. At times it's been a lack of finishing. At others it could even be at least in part blamed on poor officiating. And as often as not, it's had a lot to do with defensive lapses—at times so far under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have simply switched off for a minute or ten, and usually when they have it's meant goals for the opposition.
Thursday night in the Europa League those lapses—those losses of concentration—were the key factor in taking one of Liverpool's most dominating displays in recent years and turning it into a loss. It's an ongoing problem that Rodgers is well aware of, and though it's hardly a surprise that he recognises it, not every manager might be so up front about it.
"It was very frustrating," was his response when asked about his side's troubles holding onto the lead in the second half, when a Udinese side that until then hadn't looked in the game was able to slice through Liverpool's midfield and defence as though they were made out of wet tissue, warm butter, or an especially thin variety of air. "It was a game where we were much the better side but lost our concentration at the beginning of the second half. I thought we'd moved on from that, to be honest."
When the first half had ended, with Liverpool managing over 80% possession after the fifteen minute mark and Udinese unable to get a meaningful touch on the ball, most Liverpool fans could have been forgiven for thinking the side had moved on from that, too. It's becoming hard to avoid the reality, though, that since the departure of Steve Clarke over the summer what had been Liverpool's strongest positive has quickly become their biggest weakness.
"We had total control in the first half and were deservedly in the lead, but we were so loose at the beginning of the second half it was frightening. Our concentration was very poor and before we knew it we were 3-1 down. The last 20 minutes was very good but it's too late by then.
"I thought we were lazy. Lazy in our play; loose and sloppy. You can't keep having to score two, three and five goals to win games. Defensively, as a group, we need to be better."
It's increasingly clear there is a problem with concentration for this Liverpool side, and with each passing week it becomes harder and harder to write it off as simply players adjusting to a new system—especially players who last year were so good at keeping the opposition off the scoresheet.
Thankfully for Rodgers and Liverpool, Stoke City would seem to offer less of an attacking threat than many of their recent opponents when the West Midlands agrarians make the trip to Anfield on Sunday before the October international break. After that, however, is yet another busy stretch—and another chance for Liverpool to try to show they haven't collectively forgotten how to keep the ball out of Pepe Reina's goal.