QPR 2: Vargas 87' 90+1'
Liverpool 3: Dunne (og) 67', Coutinho 90', Caulker (og) 90+4'
Whatever that was, hopefully Liverpool never do it again. The win can stay, but the performance, the errors, the dispassionate play, 97% of what was produced on the day, needs to go away and never, ever return. It was a farce, and the three points almost makes it worse. The international break was supposed to be restorative, but our first piece of evidence seems to indicate that it only put Liverpool's struggles in a holding pattern, as things largely just picked up where they left off.
This despite the fact that Brendan Rodgers tinkered with the personnel and tactics from the outset; Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo were rested in favor of Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson, and Emre Can entered the midfield picture after six weeks out due to injury. He joined Jordan Henderson deeper in central midfield with Steven Gerrard more advanced and Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling flanking Mario Balotelli, who once again operated as the lone striker.
For the first 45 minutes, everyone involved stunk up the joint, with a lone Gerrard chance late in the half Liverpool's best. QPR, by contrast, should have been ahead by at least three goals before the break. First Charlie Austin cue the Benny Hilly theme song and bumbled through three Liverpool defenders before shooting wide of goal, then Johnson was forced into a goal-line clearance after more calamitous defending, and finally Leroy Fer pushed an effort onto the crossbar with an open goal in front of him. Liverpool were an absolute shambles.
It got marginally better in the second half, with Gerrard dropping deeper in midfield Philippe Coutinho coming on along with Joe Allen to add energy to the side. Their introduction came one minute before Liverpool took the lead--Raheem Sterling played a quick free-kick on the far side to Glen Johnson, whose cross was knocked into the QPR net by Richard Dunne, who'd been caught off-guard along with nearly everyone else on the pitch.
Liverpool were slightly better from there but still nervy, and QPR took advantage with an equalizer in the 87th minute. Eduardo Vargas started and finished the move, first pushing a cross in the box and then nipping past a hapless Jose Enrique to draw level. Liverpool's response was immediate, with Philippe Coutinho cutting in past two defenders to hit a low, deflected shot past Alex McCarthy for what looked like the winner.
Then things got really silly, with Vargas heading a corner off Steven Gerrard and through the legs of Joe Allen on the line, giving the hosts another equalizer. That really should have been it, but a late free-kick by QPR turned into a Liverpool counter, and Sterling ran onto Coutinho's through ball before playing a low cross off the foot of Steven Caulker and in for the winner.
The last ten minutes of the match were as wild as it gets, and while relief is the overriding feeling at this point, there's also a good amount of disappointment lingering despite the result. Liverpool were as bad as they have been in years during the first half, and while the second half was an upgrade, it was still a woefully inept performance completely lacking in any sort of identity. All of this just a few days ahead of Real Madrid's visit to Anfield, so they've got that going for them too, which is nice.
What "good" there was in the match was largely down to isolated moments in the match and two or three players, depending on your leanings--Gerrard's first-half chance was a neat little combination and bit of skill from he and Balotelli, Raheem Sterling had a few bursts, and Simon Mignolet made a couple of excellent saves. The Belgian acquitted himself well on the day along with Philippe Coutinho, but there was little else to shout about on a day that very easily--and likely should have--seen points dropped.
That Liverpool are so rudderless without Daniel Sturridge is worrying; they've fought the "one-man team" accusations for years, with Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres each holding the mantle at one time or another, but in the case of Sturridge it's about as close to true as it's ever been. He's not going to turn a match on his own the way Suarez would have or 2008 Gerrard was capable of, but he's the missing piece in so many ways. Strike partner for the continually ineffective Mario Balotelli, outlet for a creative unit that can't create, presence that allows Brendan Rodgers to revert to a formation that started out as a fun experiment and now looks to be their most (and maybe only) dangerous approach.
Three points, silver lining that Liverpool showed character™, a giant exhale, and hopes that we never see the likes of this again. Wednesday promises a much bigger test, and a match that could provide a boost to a side bereft of confidence, or further expose their deficiencies on the biggest stage in club football. Let's hope for the former.