Newcastle 1: Perez 73'
It's getting old watching--and subsequently writing and reading about--the same old problems for Liverpool. The setup remains the same despite not producing anything worth watching in the last two months, and despite mounting evidence in support of needing a change, Brendan Rodgers persists. Nothing changes in the approach and, wouldn't you know it, nothing changes in the results.
Mario Balotelli up front on his own continues to be the topic du jour, and it was as problematic as ever today. Isolated up top with Raheem Sterling once again ineffective on the right and Philippe Coutinho running hot and cold, Liverpool managed one shot on goal in the entire first half, looking completely limp going forward while slightly more solid at the back. Sterling on the right is quickly catching up to Balotelli as the lone striker on the list of confusing Rodgers decisions; previously utilized on the left and to great effect through the middle, he's a shadow of his former self even on a week's rest when stationed on the right flank.
The second half brought more of the same but included the Newcastle winner--Glen Johnson, whose start ahead of Javier Manquillo was questionable in its own right, took an ill-advised shot cutting in on his left, giving the hosts a break into space down Liverpool's right. Dejan Lovren was improved on the day but partially culpable again here due to poor positioning, and just when it looked as though Alberto Moreno would clear the danger in front of goal, he put it on a plate for Ayezo Perez, who smashed past Simon Mignolet for the lead.
Changes eventually came, but it was too little too late for a Liverpool side that were never really in the match. A header from Coutinho well-saved by Tim Krul was incorrectly ruled offside, and that signaled the birth and death of Liverpool's danger on the day. Fabio Borini finally came in and pulled a low drive wide after a chested knockdown from Sterling, and Rickie Lambert's introduction only saw an increase in the number of balls played over the top rather than along the deck. Much like everything else Rodgers and Liverpool have tried in recent weeks, it didn't work.
The performances are disappointing, underwhelming, frustrating. The manager's insistence on continuing with a setup that leads to the performances is even more concerning, though, as he's given no indication that the tactical flexibility and willingness to made the changes needed we witnessed last year are present, even with added depth and quality. Liverpool don't need Luis Suarez in the squad or Daniel Sturridge fit for things to be different.
They need a manager willing to recognize the deficiencies and address them rather than one who persists despite all evidence to the contrary. In his first two seasons, Brendan Rodgers appeared to be that manager, but to this point in the campaign, he's been worryingly inflexible. Ahead of a week that will see the club face two of Europe's best, that's cause for concern.