Neil Humphreys: Five reasons for Liverpool's poor form
(Marco Streller 52)
Liverpool's abject performance in Basel made a mockery of Brendan Rodgers' repeated claims that the Reds need more time.
Enough time has passed without improvement. If anything, the club are going backwards. Here are five things that are wrong with Liverpool this season (and it could be many more):
1 Drop Steven Gerrard
The skipper is a haunted man. Two blunders for both club and country appear to have mortally wounded him.
Gerrard is a hollowed-out shell of his former self, a ghost of an inspirational leader.
Jamie Carragher listened to his creaking limbs and bowed out gracefully, but Gerrard gamely endures.
That's his prerogative, but he no longer seems convinced of his own decision.
When he shook hands with a smiling Basel skipper Marco Streller before kick-off, he looked pained, like a little boy lost.
At 34, he derives little pleasure from the game, only pain. He was caught napping in the 13th minute and Streller almost punished him. Several abysmal set-pieces either sailed high or failed to beat the first defender.
In the 54th minute, Ahmed Hamoudi wandered past the flat-footed skipper like he was a training cone.
Gerrard tactlessly threw an arm across Hamoudi to cynically halt his advance and earned a booking. He's a proud man out of touch and out of time. It's been a familiar tale since the World Cup. After the Basel defeat, he castigated his side for being "too soft".
Privately, his colleagues might reflect on Liverpool's softest centre.
Rodgers must reduce Gerrard's role to Lampard-esque cameos in a final bid to salvage the dignity of both captain and manager.
2 Too many tortoises, only one hare
Rodgers could talk a glass eye to sleep with his love of overlapping lines, his infatuation with Barcelona's possession football and the need for speed in the counter-attack.
But there is one troubling flaw with his masterplan. Liverpool lack pace -not just in the final third, but practically everywhere.
Basel's build-up to their goal was symptomatic of Liverpool this season. Hamoudi skipped away into space before cutting inside and producing a smart save from Simon Mignolet.
Basel scored from the corner.
The Swiss side were industrious, but limited, opponents and yet enjoyed the freedom of the flanks all night long, with Hamoudi and substitute Derlis Gonzalez torturing Liverpool.
Jose Enrique has missed plenty of first-team action through injury, but he missed most of it in Basel, too, practically AWOL from first minute to last.
Gerrard's plodding leaves Jordan Henderson literally doing the work of two men.
The Reds are deprived of pace in central midfield, across the back four and in the final third. Raheem Sterling (below) is the only hare among relative tortoises.
Luis Suarez was fleet of foot and thought. Philippe Coutinho runs through treacle in comparison.
And yet, remarkably, Rodgers' 4-2-3-1 formation largely depends on swift counter-attacking, through either his overlapping fullbacks or his wide men cutting inside.
Liverpool are too slow to accomplish either. Against Basel, they never looked like scoring.
3 Balotelli is a problem, not a solution
Balotelli's aura is rapidly ebbing away. Running around for 90 minutes does not constitute achievement.
He's a striker who has never scored enough goals.
He's a creative talent who has never assisted enough goals.
He's an imposing physical presence who rarely holds up play successfully.
Other than that, he's an enigmatic guy with a funny haircut.
And this is the striker whom Rodgers entrusted Liverpool's Champions League charge, the man expected to follow Suarez.
The Basel defeat neatly summarised the Balotelli enigma.
In the first half, Sterling carved out a goal-scoring opportunity but shot tamely.
Balotelli screamed at him for not passing.
In the second half, Balotelli thumped in a contender for worst strike of the game, his awful drive clearing the goal by a full 20m.
On either side of him, Henderson and Lazar Markovic had practically ripped through a lung to get into better positions. But Balotelli, head down, didn't even see them.
They said nothing.
He's Balotelli. That's what he does. His novelty act is wearing out its welcome.
Running around and showing restraint for only tapping Taulant Xhaka on the chin instead of slapping him - and earning just a yellow card instead of red one - are hardly causes for celebration. He was not a risk worth taking.
4 What a waste of money
As the defeats pile up, Rodgers' £117 million ($234m) spending spree increasingly looks a flagrant waste of resources.
None of the four new boys acquitted themselves particularly well in Basel.
Javier Manquillo was troubled by Hamoudi. Markovic's tendency to drift out of games must be a worry.
Dejan Lovren suffered a brain-fade for the goal, losing his man, his bearings and the direction of the ball.
And Balotelli was, well, Balotelli.
Rodgers' argument that his signings need time to settle loses traction when judged against the immediate impact of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Danny Welbeck, Angel di Maria and half of the Southampton side.
They hit the ground running. Liverpool hit the wall.
5 Rodgers walks a tightrope
If Suarez's superhuman season didn't quite mask a multitude of sins, it did briefly silence the sceptics.
This time around, Rodgers has no place to hide.
The 3-0 victory at Tottenham now looks an aberration, a false representation against a team who are similarly regressing.
The Northern Irishman has failed to conjure a winning strategy from the dugout in three consecutive Premier League games, a Champions League tie and a League Cup contest against lowly opposition.
Liverpool must improve on last season. Those words came from the man himself.
If he doesn't meet his own criteria, Rodgers knows what will happen next.
"We didn’t deserve anything out of this game. I thought we were too soft all over the pitch. I thought they wanted it more, which is very disappointing."
— Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard
"It was a disappointing result for us but our next game will be a great occasion for us at Anfield... in this competition, your home games are very important."
— Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, on Pool’s Oct 22 date with Real Madrid
ON TNP TWEETS
> Ex-Liverpool midfielder Didi Hamann:
Disappointing evening for LFC. No rhythm no fluidity and confidence seems to have hit rock bottom. Team needs supporting now.
> Ex-England captain Gary Lineker:
Another Liverpool chance, but goes wide of the Markovic....I'll get my coat.
> English sprinter and Liverpool fan Adam Gemili
I want to cry!!!! Where is the end product for Liverpool???
> Liverpool legend Ian Rush:
Gutted tonight it looked like they wanted more than us!