Football's darling league returned to TV Screens on Saturday afternoon. We had all tried desperately over the summer to convince ourselves the Olympic football tournament was good enough to satisfy our intense craving for some quality exciting Premier League action. It was quality, and exciting alright, but it wasnt the premier league. We all had to pretend we were sad when Mexico beat Brazil at Wembley to claim gold to draw down the curtains down in London. But at the back of our minds, it was a heavy sigh of relief that reigned supreme. ''Thank Goodness! Finally! Now we can all have ourselves some EPL Drama at last!''. Yes, we're that hooked. Helplessly Addicted.
And then for Liverpool fans who had been particularly overly optimistic prior to Saturday--owing to an exciting new era--the charged anticipation quelled almost immediately and was forgotten after 90 minutes of excruciating frustration at the Hawthorns. West Brom (unexpectedly) thrashed Liverpool by 3 goals to nil. Well, 'thrashed' is actually harsh, as Liverpool had controlled the game for most parts, especially in the first half, with the Brendan Rodgers passing philosophy slightly showing signs of promise. But in the long run, a wonder strike by Hungarian Zoltan Gera, a penalty from Odemwingie and a far post header from 'Chelsea reject' Romelu Lukaku made sure Brendan Rodgers underwent the cliche ''Baptism of fire''. A red card to Agger and another Joe Cole hamstring episode somewhere in between made it all the worse.
The inevitable knee jerk reactions caught fire in earnest. Some sections of LFC passionate twitter folk were quick to launch spurious assertions that Brendan Rodgers ''cannot manage the club'' and should be sacked, blah blah. Yes, just after one game, ONE GAME. Ridiculous doesn't quite capture what these assertions are. You could forgive this impetuous show in the reactions as the expectations of fans had swelled massively in the run up to the game, with preseason having gone relatively well, and Rodgers preaching his tiki taka philosophy, convincing even the staunchest skeptics. High expectations have always been a sine qua non for disappointments and overreactions.
Truth is, the realists foresaw this 'early setback'. Reality checks this early our healthy, not abnormal. This loss will afford Rodgers the golden opportunity to assess his side's strengths and weaknesses in the real deal situation. It was clear throughout the game that Rodgers had emphasized ball possession with penetration at the expense of defensive organization, which cost the side. Being astute as he is, Im sure he noted it, literally, as he was seen jotting down some words in his mini note pad throughout the game. This I guess was one of numerous flaws in his side's disposition that he marked out for correction. Life for a topside in the Premier League in relation to the small sides is not all rosy and easy, and Brendan Rodgers learned the harsh way.
The status quo at Liverpool is delicate, as it's in an early stage of a highly sophisticated long term project. A project that will take time, ideally, to fall in place and come good. Expecting too much from an unfinished act is unfair. During these early stages, experimenting and failing is common, and requires immense patience from fans to sustain the effort to move on. Building a formidable side from a host of average squad players(with a few world class ones) is an onerous task. To worsen an already mountanous quandary, the new gaffer does not have the privilege of abundant transfer kitty his predecessor had, to bring in guaranteed quality. And then there's the difficult process of fully imparting a defined philosophy.
The auror of excitement that has enveloped this new era is in no way going to translate into a miraculously good campaign. The reality is that Liverpool has many pressing issues that will take time to solve. 39 year old Brendan Rodgers might be a brilliant trainer and tactician, but he sure is not a magician. Currently, it's fair to say he has not had a full squad with adequate depth and quality to work with.(case in point-the shallow depth on the bench). And even if he had(which I highly doubt), it would take time to achieve that fluidity and chemistry to hit the ground running. And all this is happening in arguably the world's most competitive league. Surely, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Let's not also forget the circumstances of the loss. West Brom were brilliant on the day. Former L4 assistant manager Steve Clarke took a very conservative approach and closed defensive gaps. Their counter attacking too was superb on the day. Despite this, at the risk of sounding like Im taking something away from their deserved victory, despite the resilience of West Brom(epitomized by the robust nature of Mulumbu and Fortune), it was clear that the scoreline wasn't entirely a reflection of what transpired. There was an unstoppable goal, and highly debatable penalty calls and a reduction to 10 men. But that is just to disprove the critics who did not even see the whole game and made quick judgements hinged on their stereotypical views about Liverpool of the last 3-4 years.
Despite the numerous other glaring negatives from the game(defensive disorganization, Gerrard rustiness, Downing's back tracking into anonymity, lack of purposeful cutting edge, a discouraging bench etc etc),there are, most definitely, some positives to pick from the fiasco. Joe Allen was thrown in at the deep end on his debut and put in an assured display. "I thought he was outstanding," Rodgers observed. "For a boy to walk into a new team and perform like that, I thought he was superb. His body work, passing and ability to get on the ball was excellent."
Overall, the side looked stable and comfortable before that wonderful Gera strike(which in opinion was not only against the run of play, but changed the course of the game as well)
From Rodgers to Gerrard to Allen down to Reina, the unanimous resolution is to put the disappointment behind, dust up, get up, and rise up to a tall order of a challenge against City. Easier said than done. But it is possible if the group work hard to improve. The key will surely be to draw inspiration from the positives, correct the negatives and develop a mental strength to recover early and soldier on. The Premier League's heavy tides does not allow for a loss of focus.
Whether or not Liverpool hit the right notes in this infant stage of this new era/ journey, will strongly depend on how well they fair in identifying mistakes and curbing them, early enough. Practice makes perfect, and practice requires patience, endurance and determination. The fans must make that painful sacrifice of lowering their expectations to beat down pressure on the team. The lesser the pressure, the more conducive the atmosphere for growth.
After all is said and done, it's a 38 game championship. Familiar Analogy: A marathon, not a sprint.
Contact/ Follow me on twitter: @fiifianaman