Liverpool crash out of the FA Cup at Oldham, failing to put together anything of note and giving the hosts a deserved victory at Boundary Park.
Oldham 3: Smith 2' 45+4', Wabara 48'
Liverpool 2: Suarez 17', Allen 80'
Starting elevens don't really count as a statement of intent unless it's a cup match for some reason, but today's from Brendan Rodgers was just about that, even if it was uncertain what the intent was other than ATTACK--we'd wondered which of Liverpool's attacking contingent would start and which would sit, but in the end it was only really Stewart Downing and Suso that were left out. Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini, Raheem Sterling, and Luis Suarez were all included, with the Uruguayan serving as captain and starting just of Sturridge centrally. Both Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson got starts as the only midfielders included, and, as expected, Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson were the fullbacks on either side of Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates, with Brad Jones in goal.
Results earlier in the day were a bit unnerving; Chelsea had to fight back to draw at Brentford, and in one of the shock results of the round, Leeds United got past Spurs 2-1 at Elland Road. A strong eleven from Rodgers was welcomed, then, but within two minutes the annoying magic of the FA Cup narrative was on in full swing, with some sloppy Liverpool defending allowing Matt Smith to bundle through Sebastian Coates and head in the opener, with Skrtel's attempted clearance only serving to head it into the roof of the net.
A fiery tie unfolded from there, with Robbie Simpson extending his boot into Brad Jones' chest and getting a booking after a confrontation with Skrtel, and Raheem Sterling getting a booking of his own minutes earlier. The guests drew level through Suarez on 17 minutes, thankfully, with a one-two played off an Oldham defender to free up space to curl past Bouzanis.
Liverpol looked to take the lead five minutes later on a Jordan Henderson free kick that the Uruguayan skimmed in to leave Bouzanis flat-footed, but the linesman incorrectly ruled it offside to erase the goal and leave the match level. Some smart interplay between Fabio Borini and Sterling gave the young winger a chance with his left foot, but a weak effort straight at Bouzanis was all he could muster.
Another Brad Jones error gifted the hosts the lead just before the half, as a mishandled cross was punched across the face of goal to Smith, who tapped his second of the match into an empty net. It didn't get any better after the break, with Borini missing a clear chance seconds from the whistle and Oldham extending their lead through a fantastic Reece Wabara header.
The introduction of Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing for Andre Wisdom and Fabio Borini--which meant Henderson to right-back--immediately brought about a period of sustained pressure, and as the half wore on it was one-way traffic aside from the odd Oldham break. A heavily deflected Joe Allen strike brought Liverpool back within a goal, and after a long stoppage for a Matt Smith injury, Steven Gerrard's strike off the crossbar was as close as Liverpool got, leaving the hosts to celebrate a deserved 3-2 victory.
There's not much to say that hasn't been discussed already--from the setup to the performance, it was puzzling and poor, and even though Oldham were about as thuggish as it gets outside of Stoke, Liverpool can have no complaints about the result. They didn't deserve more and weren't impressive in any aspect of the match, and if momentum is actually a thing we were talking about prior to the match, it's not anymore.
The three strikers plus Raheem Sterling bumbled more than they blended, the midfield two of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen were completely anonymous, and the defense was a shambles, particularly Sebastian Coates and Jack Robinson, both of whom showed the type of rust and uncertainty you'd expect from young defenders called upon with such irregularity.
Adding Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing to the mix fixed little, even if the captain was inches away from leveling the score late. Jonjo Shelvey was good in his cameo and spread play well, but the cluster of f*cks that Liverpool had created wouldn't part long enough for anything positive to settle in for good. Brendan Rodgers' side were bullied from the off and couldn't cope with it, and had little invention to counter it.
Zapping so many of energy from the regular eleven ahead of Wednesday's trip to the Emirates is a worst-case scenario, and we're left to hope that they recover quickly and have short memories. That's probably good advice for all of us, in fact--bad in nearly every facet of the game from top to bottom, it's instantly time for Liverpool to move on, and the sooner this one's forgotten the better.