It has to be fair game to wonder what happened to the faith Kenny Dalglish showed John Flanagan towards the end of last season; to wonder where it went on the back of a poor performance that owed a great deal to the young fullback being left exposed by the man playing in front of him.
It has to be fair game to wonder about the insistence on playing that man
, Jordan Henderson, ahead of the more experienced Dirk Kuyt no matter the circumstances—even when coming up against one of the league's top six clubs on the road. Even when the club has no proven, fit, senior right back available to play behind him on the right. Kuyt may have his flaws and detractors, but his ability to make the fullback behind him and midfielder beside him look better through sheer, dogged workrate has never been up for discussion, and even those who thought his minutes would decrease in light of the new summer signings assumed there would be matches where his inclusion would be a foregone conclusion. Like when the club was faced with Tottenham and Gareth Bale on the road with Martin Skrtel as a makeshift right back.
It has to be fair game to wonder about the wisdom of allowing both Alberto Aquilani and Raul Meireles to leave—no matter the specifics of each case—over the summer, both players that it's hard to imagine wouldn't have provided an improvement on the performances on display against Tottenham on Sunday. Similarly it's hard to imagine the most common trio that ended last season—Spearing, Meireles, and Kuyt—wouldn't have been a huge improvement over the three men who replaced them in yesterday's starting eleven. Stewart Downing may have been the only early summer arrival that didn't lead to widespread sneering from superior superfans falling back on the regrettable argument that to not blindly trust in the manager's decision is a sign of moral weakness, yet to date he's the only one who appears to have actually improved the first eleven while Charlie Adam has run as hot and cold as he did at Blackpool and Jordan Henderson—a player so many insisted was one for the future despite his high fee—has indeed looked like one for the future no matter that the manager has so far shown an insistence starting him week in and week out.
Kenny Dalglish was always going to seek to build his squad, despite that the players he ended last season with seemed a group needing supplementation instead of demolition and a complete rebuild. Every manager does it, after all. Despite winning the Champions League in 2005, Rafa Benitez sought to largely overhaul a group of players he saw as not good enough for the long haul despite that success, and looking back it's hard not to agree that the core as it existed at the time did need to be significantly upgraded in order to achieve further success—even if that success, in the main, then failed to materialise. Roy Hodgson, too—in his own way and seeking to match his own image—attempted a rather unsuccessful reshaping of the squad, a rebuild most agreed was needed at the time even if the general consensus was that the job done was an exceedingly poor one that left fans whispering Carlton Cole as a boogeyman.
In light of this, some will talk of the difficulties incorporating the new players in a new system, yet the reality is that their disingenuous apologism is only really making excuses for two of those new arrivals. Despite a poor showing yesterday, the consensus has been that Stewart Downing adjusted well early on and has been an improvement over what was available on last season's Liverpool squad, while Jose Enrique has to date been the bright spot of the season. Then there's Doni, the back up goalkeeper, who may not see a minute of gametime this season, while Craig Bellamy and Sebastian Coates are understandably being eased into proceedings. All that leaves is Charlie Adam, who has looked like the same streaky player he was at Blackpool, unable to control midfield against any side with the ability to put pressure on him and rob him of the time he needs to laboriously pick a pass, and Jordan Henderson.
Even then, nobody is being especially critical of the latter, as it is assumed that as a promising twenty-year-old Henderson has the time and ability to improve his game. Which leaves the question of why when it comes to him: Why is a young, unfinished prospect being forced into a sink or swim situation where desperate supporters will have to fall back on the "But it takes time to bed in!" strawman argument in an attempt to defend his needless inclusion?
And then, of course, there's Charlie Adam, a player supposedly at the peak of his abilities who—judging by the outgoings over the summer—was brought in to be a regular part of the team's first eleven. Maybe it does take some players more time to settle into a new system than others, but Scott Parker—his newly arrived from a relegated side counterpart at Tottenham—certainly didn't seem as though he needed time to settle in on Sunday when he ran circles around Adam, eventually drawing the foul that would get the Liverpool midfielder sent off with his second yellow of the afternoon. Meanwhile Adam's glaring flaws are the same ones that those who watched him closely at Blackpool were worried about from the minute he signed, leaving all those hopes that he eventually settles in to instead be hopes that at this late stage in his career he develops into a player he's never been in the past. Which is an entirely different matter.
Then, of course, if the argument that players need time to settle wasn't little more than a deflective cry for the blindly faithful, one would have little choice but to fall back on the uncomfortable fact that the squad that ended last season didn't seem as though it needed to be overhauled so thoroughly in the first place. It might be natural for a new manager to seek to reshape a squad in his own image, but if he does so to a side that seems in fairly good shape to begin with and it leads to worse results—or simply to a group of players who need six months or a year to fully integrate—it still cannot help but be the managers responsibility for making those decisions at the end of the day.
Despite all of that, it's still early days: Every club and every manager will have setbacks. And in the manic-depressive world of sports fandom a thorough thumping of Brighton and Wolves—though neither are anything like sure things—will likely have people praising players unreservedly and dreaming of finishing even higher than fourth.
Still, if the mood emanating from some quarters over the summer was that blind faith in the manager was a must—faith in his plans demanding conformity of belief, faith in his willingness to let certain players go instantly making them surplus to requirements in any possible world, faith in his new signings brooking no question as to their ability—it is important not to let a result like Sunday's lead to a polar opposite and complete lack thereof. But it is right to question if Liverpool's midfield—barring the possibility of Steven Gerrard overcoming fitness concerns that have dogged him for the past two seasons—is in fact now weaker than it was last season. It's right to question the wisdom of playing a youngster most saw as one for the future as a locked-on member of the squad's best eleven no matter the circumstance. And it's right to question the use of a two-man midfield pairing against a side like Spurs, especially when one of those men is a defensively suspect and off the pace Charlie Adam whose success—limited though it might have been when one moved beyond match of the day highlight packages—was built off his inclusion in a midfield trio that allowed him to skip the hard work.
One game does not a season make, but a performance like yesterday's leaves nothing but questions, questions that go beyond the performance of a single player or a dodgy substitution. Questions too numerous to be broken down with a chart and pithy comment. Questions too numerous to be put to bed by the typically comforting performance of the manager with the press. And questions that can be made all the more pressing if the club doesn't find its feet immediately for a quick pair of matches against Brighton on Wednesday and Wolverhampton on Saturday—but questions that even in the best case scenario likely cannot be fully answered until this manager and group of players face off against Everton and Manchester United in October and Chelsea and Manchester City in November. Right now, though, those four matches make for a daunting, even terrifying, quartet, because while this one exceptionally poor showing against Tottenham won't make or break the season, that run of four opponents across six games most certainly will answer—for good or ill—all the questions left behind by Sunday's debacle.