This was not the second act Liverpool would have hoped for after their excellent performance against Chelsea earlier in the week, nor was in the table-setter they would have preferred for this coming Tuesday's second leg. Good but not great for most of the match, they struggled to find a breakthough against a solid, organized Bolton defense, and as a result they've not only failed to build on any momentum created against the league-leaders, but they're now tasked with another match on an already crowded fixture list to progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Given events earlier in the day it could have been much, much worse; Chelsea, Manchester City, and Spurs were all beaten at home, with the former pair dropping to lower-league opposition. And there were some nerves that Liverpool could follow suit, especially early in the match, but they were short-lived in a match that saw Brendan Rodgers' squad provide everything but the finish. Bolton had the better of proceedings for the first ten minutes or so, and managed a decent spell in the middle part of the second half, but the rest was all Liverpool.
That made their inability to find a winner all the more frustrating, as chances arrived--and in some cases, were denied by the excellent Adam Bogdan in the Bolton goal--with regularity. So often, though, we saw one of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, or Adam Lallana take a touch too many or put a little too much weight on the pass, and when others got involved, it was more of the same.
The forward trio were largely solid in the buildup, but in or around the Bolton penalty area they were varying degrees of poor, with Lallana looking relatively rusty and Coutinho failing to match the heights he's been hitting with such regularity in the past few months. And for all of Sterling's promise and brilliance, he does not yet have the presence to lead Liverpool's line with consistency, and while he did his best to fill the void again, he needed a reference point of his own to play off for most of the match.
At the other end of the pitch it was far better and far more encouraging, with Emre Can sliding over to a sweeper role in the back three with little noticeable fuss and Mamadou Sakho again excellent. Jose Enrique was equal parts effective and maddening before coming off at the break, while on the right side Glen Johnson and Javier Manquillo had mixed evenings as well. Manquillo was good but offered little impetus going forward, while Johnson didn't cause any significant problems but added little at either end.
Adding Lazar Markovic at the half gave more pace from the left wingback role and should have resulted in the sending off of Matthew Mills were it not for the incompetence of head referree Kevin Friend. The young Serbian made a further few runs forward as the match wore on, but as with Sterling, Coutinho, and Lallana, it all disappeared once he entered the final third. Fabio Borini and Lucas came on with just over twenty minutes to play, with the latter replacing Joe Allen, who had been off the pace for most of the night but managed a few good moments, and the former forcing Bogdan into another excellent save with a curling shot.
That's mostly what today felt like--a collection of a few good moments, none of them quite good enough to win the match. It's to be expected in a side that hasn't found a consistent match-winner in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Others have stepped up at times, of course, but Liverpool's cutting edge went missing again on Saturday at Anfield. Hopefully they'll rediscover it before Tuesday night.