Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has conceded that his side remain in transition as they try overcome the loss of Luis Suarez. Six weeks into the new campaign, Rodgers will surely not have wanted to still be discussing last season’s now departed top scorer, but a poor start has made it inevitable. After exceeding expectations with a second place finish in the Premier League last season, Liverpool have taken just seven points from six games and suffered a 1-0 loss at Basel in the Champions League in midweek.
"At this moment, we're having a difficult moment -- we're nowhere near what we've been,” Rodgers said, reports Liverpool’s official website. “There was big change here in the summer. We lost a world-class player. We had to improve the squad by bringing in a number of players and, unfortunately for us, we've lost a number of our key players [through injury].
“Ideally for me it would have been a case of keeping the squad that we had and then adding a few bodies to that to pad it up and thicken up the squad. But it wasn't the case. We lost a player, unfortunately, but we've gone into a little bit of transition again. It's something that was difficult in the first few months when I got here. But the beauty of that period is that we saw the vision and the ideas that came out of the other side.”
Exacerbating the problem for Liverpool has been the absence of Suarez’s former partner in crime, Daniel Sturridge. Out with a thigh injury picked up at the start of the month, Rodgers said he would have to “wait and see” whether Sturridge is fit to return when West Brom visit Anfield on Saturday. Mario Balotelli was captured late in the transfer window in an attempt to maintain Liverpool’s scoring prowess, but the Italy international has had a slow start with just one goal in seven appearances. And Rodgers did not hold back from stating a signing that he described as a “calculated risk” needs to do more.
“In terms of goals he needs to improve, it is as simple as that,” he said, reports Reuters. “Not just him but any striker is judged on goals and at this moment he hasn't hit the numbers he will have wanted.”
It appeared that Liverpool were about to secure a morale-boosting win a week ago after Steven Gerrard’s free-kick gave them a second-half lead against Everton in the Merseyside derby. Instead Phil Jagielka struck a spectacular injury-time equalizer to silence Anfield and leave Liverpool still with just one clean sheet to their name this season.
They now take on a West Brom side that are on a high after back-to-back Premier League victories. After taking just two points from their first four games, new manager Alan Irvine, a surprise appointment in the summer, already found himself under pressure. But things look significantly brighter now following a 1-0 win at Tottenham and an emphatic 4-0 triumph over Burnley. Striker Saido Berahino scored twice last week to make it five goals for the season and lead some to suggest that the 21-year-old should be included in the England squad announced this week. That didn’t happen on this occasion, but Irvine believes it is just a matter of time.
“Saido is a young player who is doing extremely well at the moment and has great potential,” he said, according to West Brom’s official website. “I would hope that one day he will become a full international but I didn’t expect Roy Hodgson to pick him at this stage. Roy knows him well and I’m sure he will pick him at the time when he thinks he’s ready. We’re delighted with how Saido is doing. And we’re delighted he’s being talked about in that way, but Roy will know when the time is right to pick him.”
Prediction: Balotelli has become an easy target, seemingly for Rodgers as well, but the problems run significantly deeper. Fellow attacking new arrivals, Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana have yet to find their feet either, while Philippe Coutinho has so far failed to replicate the form of his first 18 months at Anfield. All of them, and especially, Balotelli, will benefit from the return of Sturridge, but that is likely to be in the capacity of a substitute, if at all, on Saturday.
But Sturridge won’t solve everything. It has also become too easy to derail Liverpool by putting Gerrard under pressure, while the defensive problems show no signs of being remedied. Their particular weakness at set-pieces, highlighted again against Basel, will surely be a target for West Brom. Still, Irvine’s men were flattered by a poor Burnley side last week and could still have a difficult season ahead. Liverpool should be able to secure a narrow win.
Liverpool 2-1 West Brom
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra