|photo by DerrickT||via PhotoRee|
Correspondent Scott found his way back to the home office after a summer break. Unfortunately for him, Liverpool was also back in action:
Like a bad action hero sequel, Liverpool's season opener -- against ex-coach Steve Clarke's West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns -- started with much pomp and promise but rapidly descended into a painful retread of 2011, only worse. There was, of course, plenty of possession, plenty of chances and an energetic yet goaless Luis Suarez. And now there was a stoic, scarlet-tied Brendan Rodgers taking notes throughout, likely repeatedly breaking the tip of his pencil as the game went on, each shard of wasted lead strewn about the technical box representing yet another missed opportunity that would come back to haunt like that last tequila shot. Not even the returning Lucas Leiva or newbies Joe Allen and Fabio Borini could prevent the shower of shards as the mighty Reds lacked the final touch, lost composure and were ultimately embarrassingly pummeled back into last season by a whopping 3-0 score line.
But it all started so well.... By the quarter hour mark, despite a wayward back-pass by Lucas and a missed header by Borini, Liverpool were dominating another game through possession away from home. But around the 30 minute mark, when yet another opportunity was wasted as Suarez couldn't get high enough for Glen Johnson's brilliant cross, and even with the possession stat north of 60%, a trace of faintly familiar dread wafted through the Kopite collective consciousness. That dread materialized just before halftime when, from a corner that was reasonably cleared by Liverpool, Zoltan Gera controlled outside the area and then volleyed a 2012-highlight-reel-quality shot into the upper left corner past a helpless Pepe Reina.
And things just got worse from there. After the interval, an energized Baggies side came out pressing from the start and, with rare exceptions like Allen's ability to win balls in the midfield, Liverpool continued to deteriorate. Stuart Downing, for example, was miserable trying to cross from the right and very likely did not complete a single pass in the second half. Similarly, Steven Gerrard played an uncharacteristically awful game, giving the ball away repeatedly with forced, errant passes.
In the 58th minute, though, it really fell apart when Martin Skrtl slipped, Daniel Agger gave a slight
nudge and Shane Long went down like a box of rocks in the penalty area. Reduced to 10 men after Agger was shown red for the first time in his Liverpool career, even Reina's save of Long's weak penalty was not enough. Mere minutes later, Long won another penalty when he dispossessed the hapless Skrtl who tripped the West Brom forward without even seeing him. While the Slovakian did, indeed, trip Long, the penalty seemed harsh given that it was completely unintentional (Skrtl didn't even know he was there), near the corner of the box and with the play moving away from goal. Still, Peter Odemwingie converted from the spot and the proverbial feces hit the oscillating wind machine.
The final 20 minutes were sheer football fandom torture and I seriously contemplated walking away from the demonized TV lest it curse the rest of my day or week. But like the movie character who can't help going into the basement despite the eerie darkness and odd noises, I continued to watch in horror as Liverpool was dismembered over those final 20 minutes. It should have been 3-0 when James Morrison missed a golden opportunity in the 73rd minute but Romelu Lukaku made up for it in the 77th with his back post header. With West Brom creating chances at will, Liverpool saw Joe Cole limp off the field after just having come on and, providing the exclamation point to the afternoon's mutilation, Suarez missed yet another header, this one wide open in the 80th minute.
As the minutes ticked down, I found myself, for the first time I can remember, longing for the final whistle to stop the bleeding and the pain. I know it's only the first game, and with 37 more left lots can happen, but if Suarez can't start finding the net we are in for a long season. It's way too early to pass judgment on Rodgers, and I still have faith that Liverpool can vie for a Champions League place, but right now only Kurtz's famous last words come to mind.
Oh, and I'll take that tequila shot now.
This is farlieonfootie for August 20.