Although Liverpool are through to the Fifth Round of the League Cup, it came on the back of a wholly disappointing performance from the Reds with the hosts held to a stalemate into extra-time and forced into the uncertainty of a penalty shoot-out to decide the tie.
For the Anfield outfit and lower league opposition, this is a story that’s all too familiar. Boos rang out from all around the stadium — bar the jubilant visiting support — as the match drifted into extra time. Danny Ings, who opened his account for Liverpool with a strike at the weekend against Norwich City, got things started by heading in Adam Lallana’s cross from close range before the half-hour mark, but Derek Asamoah’s low shot just over ten minutes later restored parity and that’s how it stayed all the way until Adam Bogdan saved three-spot kicks in the penalty shoot-out to save the Reds from a terrible upset.
I’ve always been of the opinion that a win is a win and that’s good enough, but it’s hard to puff your chest out after a performance like that. When you factor in the personnel we had on the pitch and that we could only muster a single goal from just under fifty shots against a team playing in the fourth-tier of English football, progression to the next round is hardly worth celebrating.
That match doesn’t need a reaction — it needs a eulogy.
Restricted to mainly long-range, speculative efforts for large swathes, we once again looked lacking in invention, creativity and purpose; when we did get something decent going in the final third, we were met with a wall of blue shirts as the Cumbrians defended in numbers with ‘keeper Mark Gillespie standing tall when called upon, but that’s hardly an excuse. There was no pressure or expectation on Carlisle boss Keith Curle to get a result on Merseyside, but he knew what his side were capable of and he played to their strengths and almost as importantly, his oppositions weaknesses. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said about Brendan Rodgers; Liverpool should not be troubled by League Two opposition and they especially shouldn’t be floundering this badly at Anfield.
Maybe that’s tough on the Northern Irishman; much like the meeting with Norwich at the weekend, he, for the most part anyway, appeared to have got both his line-up and tactics right. The Reds, as expected, dominated possession and kept their visitors on the back-foot as they probed for the go-ahead goal, but Carlisle looked dangerous every single time they got forward on the counterattack, doing more than just troubling their hosts porous defense on too many occasions. You couldn’t say the same about Liverpool — but now I’m just repeating myself, aren’t I?
With Christian Benteke out for a fortnight with a hamstring problem and now an injury to Roberto Firmino — who was replaced by Divock Origi early in the first half after landing awkwardly on his spine — sure to put the Brazilian on the sidelines, the pressure to produce in front of the net will be even greater on Daniel Sturridge, who has only just returned from a long term layoff of his own, and Philippe Coutinho, who did nothing to stake his claim as a quality marksman with his performance last night. Along with Firmino, Dejan Lovren was stretched off late in injury time after an painful fall of his own, and though the Croatian appears to have fallen down the pecking order with Mamadou Sakho back in the fold, his absence won’t do Rodgers any favors.
The Reds boss, regardless of your opinion of him, could probably use one or two of those at this point, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get any; you rarely do in the top-flight. His side may have lived to fight another day, but they come out of this one looking even worse for wear — and that’s saying something considering this is their first win since the middle of August. While it’s something to build on, if we fail to do so, thankfully, we don’t have too far to fall with the bar set as low as it is. That’s something to celebrate, I suppose…