Poor Substitutions, Worse Support

Clive Brunskill

A lack of midfield support and questionable substitutions may not have lost the game for Liverpool on Monday night against West Bromwich Albion, but it did cost the hosts any chance they had of winning it.

With new signing Daniel Sturridge sidelined by a thigh strain picked up against Manchester City, Monday night's deflating loss to West Bromwich Albion saw one of this Liverpool squad's longest standing problems return to the forefront. In short, there was no support for Luis Suarez. No movement around him; no runners advancing past him; no attackers flooding the box when he ventured wide to find space.

Amongst the six players primarily tasked with offering support to the lone striker there seemed little inclination to commit to the attack. The sight of Suarez or Stewart Downing—in perhaps his best performance in a Liverpool shirt—stuck holding the ball on the wings while four or five white-shirted defenders sat alone in the West Brom box quickly became a far too familiar sight.

Jonjo Shelvey in particular was a lethargic disaster, the man tasked with taking on the most advanced midfield role providing little movement and appearing hesitant whenever a chance to attack the West Brom box presented itself. There are legitimate excuses to explain his poor night, key amongst them a lack of recent action, but those excuses don't change the fundamental fact that he was exceptionally poor.

He wasn't helped by the play of captain Steven Gerrard, either, who when faced with the need to push higher up the pitch to compensate for Sturridge's absence and Shelvey's ineffectiveness quickly reverted to his early-season worst. He was impatient and inaccurate; indecisive when an opportunity presented and forceful when none existed.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's fullbacks only made the evening's miserably ineffective attack worse. With Liverpool dominating possession and both Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson deployed more as wingbacks than fullbacks, the club saw perhaps the worst combined performance from the pair this season. Enrique in particular was dire, appearing completely out of sync with his teammates and completing only 70% of his 66 passes—the second most attempted by any Liverpool player on the night.

Likely the only players other than an increasingly frustrated Luis Suarez who could have made the argument they'd had any kind of positive impact on Liverpool's attack at the end of the night were Downing and Jordan Henderson. It made little sense, then, when manager Brendan Rodgers removed both in favour of other late attacking options.

Something clearly needed to be done to give the floundering hosts a push in the right direction, but Downing and Henderson had been the closest things to attacking bright spots on the night and their removal showed little tactical intent. They rather seemed changes made by a manager desperate to simply switch things up in blind hope rather than because he had a plan to win the match.

In-game adjustments have often seemed one of Rodgers' strongest attributes in his young Liverpool career, but last night the sense that even if he hadn't set his squad up right to start the match he could make things right as the game moved along was completely absent. Still, his failure to make the right changes at the right time are far from the most discouraging aspect of Monday's loss—especially given that he seems to get such decisions right more often than he gets them wrong.

The most discouraging aspect of Monday's loss was that lack of effective midfield support. It's a problem that has plagued this Liverpool side all season, and while results are often positive when Luis Suarez works his magic, on nights when he cannot convert one of his many singular moments of brilliance into a goal or two Liverpool often look toothless. Monday was yet another one of those nights, one where all the statistical dominance in the world never really looked like turning into goals and victory. It also showed that while the arrival of Daniel Sturridge has masked the problem, it hasn't solved it.

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