Nothing much went right for Liverpool on Sunday as they fell 3-1 to Crystal Palace, and that defeat rather ruined what could have been a memorable night for Rickie Lambert. The striker and boyhood red scored his first for the club in the opening minutes, but the feel good factor didn't last much past his celebration.
"We lost the individual battles at Palace and that's not good enough for a Liverpool team," began the striker, addressing reporters at the club's pre-Ludogorets press conference after the team arrived in Sofia. "I really do believe it's just a lack of confidence for us at the moment, but that will come back. You will see the best of us shortly."
He may just be speaking for the cameras, for the public, but talk of it being no more than a dip in confidence doesn't inspire confidence. Because Liverpool's problems go far deeper than a dip in confidence. They also go deeper than Steven Gerrard, who Lambert has suggested doesn't deserve the criticism he's received this season.
"I find the criticism of Steven shocking to be honest," said the striker when pressed on whether the captain's recent poor form has been one of the problems with Liverpool in recent weeks as the club struggles through their worst stretch of form under Brendan Rodgers. "After what he's done for the club, if he has a bad game it's up to others to stand up."
It may again be a message tailored for public consumption, a politically cautions statement, but if it reflects a widespread belief amongst the squad that their aging captain is beyond criticism, it speaks to a serious problem with this year's squad. Gerrard is a club legend, full stop, but he has been his play this season has deserved criticism.
To suggest he's somehow above it or not deserving of it only suggests an unwillingness to accept reality. An insistence that because Gerrard is a club legend, the standard rules about aging football players don't apply to him. And that's a problem—mainly for the manner in which it suggests that many at the club believe there is no problem.
Hopefully, though, it's only about saying the right thing—the polite thing—for the cameras. Because there's a lot more wrong with this Liverpool side than a lack of confidence, and Steven Gerrard does deserve criticism. And if Lambert, Rodgers, and others at the club try to pretend otherwise, things are only going to get worse.
"I've shown in my time here as manager that I don't deal in sentiment," was Rodgers take when asked to follow up on Lambert's suggestions. "There has been nothing sentimental about me picking Steven Gerrard."