With all the problems that Liverpool are having at the moment, and we'll get to them all, I still can't get past what I thought right after last season ended. And it was how if this was a baseball team, you would look at all the outlying stats and think that there's no way they could repeat that. This was before Luis Suarez needed another taste of man-flesh, before he was flogged to Barca, before a raft of new signings were brought in.
The first thing I thought was, "We'll never get 50 goals from two strikers ever again." Because the idea that they did it once was ludicrous. And from there, expectations of what Liverpool could be this season start to get lowered.
Of course, the problem isn't that Liverpool aren't scoring so much as it is they don't look like scoring ever. We've been through the season where they hit the post all the time or miss a boatload of chances. In fact, we went through two of those with Dalglish's one and Rodgers's first. We saw what happened when they stopped hitting posts and started putting it between them. And now we're back to where we started, where the posts can feel safe in their lack of exposure to either being hit or pierced.
It's kind of scary to think Daniel Sturridge has become that important, but it's also important to remember just how ruthless he's been since he arrived at Anfield. And his injury combined with ill-fitting parts is the problem at that end of the field. Sturridge can play centrally alone or as part of a front three, but Balotelli really can't unless he's got runners going past him constantly. What he really needs is Gerrard at age 27 behind him.
But it goes deeper than that. Brendan Rodgers has been caught being a hypocrite when it comes to Raheem Sterling. It's easy for him to lecture Roy Hodgson on how Sterling needs to be protected, but not so easy to practice that when he's terrified what his attack might look like without Sterling and Sturridge. Which is why you get him playing 120 minutes in the League Cup days before the derby, and then you get performances like yesterday's when everything adds up and his fatigue basically breaks down every good move Liverpool put together.
There are more mixed messages from the manager. Jordan Henderson blossomed after refusing to be sold even though that's what Rodgers wanted to do. He showed a willingness to change his mind on a player. But even with Balotelli screaming out for a mobile strike partner to get ahead of him, Fabio Borini has gotten one look at West Ham and then banished forever. Look, he's here, so use him. If nothing else he makes a lot of right runs. Rodgers has been open to using a previously discarded player before. Why not now?
Gerrard is overwhelmed in the middle, completely exposed by the dominance and mobility of Serey Die. Henderson has been required to cover, but the attack has been blunted without Henderson's mobility around the other box. In fact, Henderson is the perfect player to be making runs beyond Balotelli, but he's tethered to Gerrard. It's all mismatched.
Of course, there's still the defense and yet no one has explained why Daniel Agger was sold and Martin Skrtel is the first name on the team sheet even though he consistently is facing the wrong way on set pieces. For at least three seasons big strikers have bullied him into a puddle. And we watch it every week. It's not his ball-laying skills, we know that. Maybe Rodgers is like I used to be and transfixed by the idea that Skrtel "looks" like he should be a dominating center-half. But he's not. It's impossible to judge Lovren when his partner is so jittery.
The problems are myriad, and some of them stem from the manager not following his own patterns. Some of them are just regression. Some of them are confusing. All in all, I don't feel so good.