By Séamus Leonard
It is a privilege for any player to be employed by Liverpool Football Club. To be paid tens of thousands of pounds a week to play for one of the famous teams in the world should a dream come true for the precious few who get the opportunity. So it must be a joy to go to work most days. However, you would hope that returning to training after the 3-1 debacle at Hull City on Sunday was no fun at all for those involved.
The blame game was in full flow after the shambolic performance at the KC Stadium, and there was plenty of it to go around. There is no doubt that manager Brendan Rodgers did not have his side adequately prepared for the trip to Humberside, and his selection decisions also backfired. That said, the 11 players he put out against the Tigers should have had more than enough to overcome a side that even in victory looked like one that will be battling for survival come the end of the season.
Rodgers accepted responsibility in the aftermath of the reverse, though it was hard not to get the sense that he was merely trying to deflect criticism away from his players ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Norwich City rather than actually admitting fault. The loss to Hull was humiliating. Not just because it was the first time a Liverpool side had suffered a defeat at the hands of that club, but because Hull is a poor side that didn’t even have to play above its usual standards to upset the Reds.
But prolonging the period of recrimination and/or wallowing in self-pity is not an option for Rodgers and his charges. The only relief from the pain of Sunday’s defeat is to take six points from the home games against Norwich and West Ham United (scheduled for Saturday).
Rodgers has to get his selection right. Striker Daniel Sturridge has been ruled out for up to two months with an ankle injury and so the Liverpool boss needs to find a way to get by without that half of his clinical SAS partnership. But Rodgers also needs to balance the need to beat Norwich with the need to have a strong side to face the Hammers at the weekend. There will almost certainly be changes from the side that started in Hull, but how many is the question. Liverpool had virtually no control in the midfield area, as the policy of playing both Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva in the engine room failed to work yet again. Neither player was that poor in an individual sense, but they just don’t seem to be able to make it work as a combination in that most crucial of areas.
It would be a big call, but maybe with the game being at home Rodgers might feel he can sacrifice Lucas and have either have Jordan Henderson or Joe Allen fill in as a defensive midfielder. If Gerrard is retained, the veteran has to play further forward than the pseudo quarterback position he has occupied for a lot of the season to date. Although his years may be advancing, the 33-year-old can still hurt teams in the final third. Ergo, he should be in that area as much as possible.
Liverpool’s display was so abject on Sunday that even Luis Suarez looked like an average player. The Uruguayan’s insatiable appetite for victory is one of his strongest attributes, but it manifests itself as a flaw when he gets tunnel vision and starts to feel that he has to win a game all on his own. He needs to trust his team-mates more, but they also have to show that they can be relied upon to supply the service and support the number seven requires.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra, with coverage starting at 1445 EST.
Liverpool v Norwich City
When: Wednesday, December 4, 1445 EST/1945 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Hull City 3-1 Liverpool, Norwich City 1-0 Crystal Palace
League Position 2013-14: Liverpool 4th (24 points), Norwich City 14th (14 points)
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson
MID: Henderson, Gerrard, Allen
FW: Moses, Suarez, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Sakho, Toure, Cissokho, Ilori, Luis Alberto, Ibe, Sterling, Aspas
Projected Norwich Starting 11
DEF: Martin, R Bennett, Bassong, Garrido
MID: Redmond, Howson, Fer, Olsson
FW: Elmander, Hooper
Subs from: Whittaker, Turner, Johnson, Hoolahan, Becchio, Nash, Murphy
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard