West Brom 2: McAuley 81', Lukaku 90+1'
Poor defending on set-pieces, inability to finish chances despite statistically dominating the opposition, a missed penalty, and a lackadaisical finish that caused questions as to whether or not anyone beyond a player or two cared much about how things wrapped up. This is Liverpool, and it has been for a few seasons now. Wonderful in spurts, frustratingly incompetent in others. I suppose this is baseline, even though by its definition a baseline is supposed to be stable.
Nothing about tonight was particularly surprising--not that Liverpool had more shots and had the glossier moments, not that an opposition goalkeeper played very well, and not that it ended in the most frustrating manner possible. There's nothing new here, even though the principals have changed around a bit. It's the same as it was under lame-duck Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish and, now, Brendan Rodgers. Philosophies and systems might change, and the ability to articulate the hopes certainly has. But the results certainly haven't, and they won't until Liverpool find a way to drag themselves out of the punishing, miserable malaise that's plagued them for years.
By about the twentieth minute tonight you could guess where this one was headed; Liverpool had settled in and were playing some decent stuff, but something about Luis Suarez was off, and while Stewart Downing was on the front end of one of his better performances in a Liverpool shirt, there was nothing doing outside of he and Jordan Henderson in attack. Jonjo Shelvey was lost, all effort and no end product, and Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson provided very little from the fullback positions.
Liverpool defended well because they didn't have to, while the visitors were resilient, with Ben Foster turning in a wonderful performance in the West Brom goal. He denied Steven Gerrard at the Kop end with a wonderful right-handed reflex save, and when Liverpool had a chance to take the lead from the spot, he did well to push away the captain's effort, paving the way for the visitor's victory and Liverpool's collapse.
Daniel Agger failed miserably on both goals, first losing Gareth McAuley on a corner and then getting wrong-footed when it seemed impossible by the impressive Romelu Lukaku. By that point Liverpool were done anyway, and Lukaku's stoic celebration in front of the traveling supporters was fitting--no histrionics needed for a well-taken effort that was made more elementary than it needed to be by a side that had well and truly folded.
Yet again we're left asking what it all means, and yet again there aren't many answers. Something obviously needs changing, but when so much has changed on the surface, what do Liverpool do with it all? The answer to that question for supporters unfortunately seems to be to tear one another apart; continued optimism is seen as naive, continued pessimism is castigated overly harsh. One may be more right than the other, but when you're right about why Liverpool are shit, is that even something worth being right about?
Liverpool aren't very good for more than a match at a time, but that doesn't mandate that managers get fired and players get dropped and other supporters are made to look like assholes. It does mandate that Liverpool do their best to improve, and on tonight's evidence, there's a hell of a lot of that left to do.