Following an encouraging performance and result on Tuesday night against Chelsea, Liverpool shot themselves in the foot once again in the race for the top four against a team languishing at the bottom of the table.
Hull City can be added to the list that already includes Swansea, Sunderland, West Ham and Burnley as teams who Liverpool have dropped points against this season, despite victories in the ‘bigger’ games when facing teams in and around them.
Liverpool started the game well, passing with purpose and intent, pushing the home side’s defence back for the entirety of the first ten to fifteen minutes.
The quartet of Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane – playing together from the start for only the eighth time this season – looked lively during that period, clearly buoyed by the latter’s return to the side. Mane’s pace and width has been missing from the Liverpool attack, and the early indications were that it had returned with verve.
Hull, though, began to creep back into the game. For all of Liverpool’s possession, they did not manage a shot on target in the first half, and Kamil Grosicki, one of Hull’s new signings, grew into the match on the right-hand side.
Sadio Mane drew a foul from Harry Maguire, who was booked, but the free-kick was wasted. Apart from that, not one of Liverpool’s players really managed to get in behind the back four of Hull; Coutinho, in particular, saw a lot of the ball, but always in front of multiple bodies.
On 43 minutes, Mane gave the ball away cheaply, allowing Evandro – another new signing – to break forwards. Matip stepped across to relieve the danger.
From the resulting corner, Andrea Ranocchia won the first header. Simon Mignolet flapped at the ball, and could only knock it into the path of Alfred N’Diaye, who tapped in for a debut goal.
Liverpool had been frustrated in the first half, and found themselves a goal down, but a reaction was surely to come.
Not so: the second period followed the exact same pattern. Their worst performance so far this season arguably came early on away at Burnley: this game was almost a carbon copy.
Liverpool kept the ball well, but never went anywhere with it. Adam Lallana, so often a bright spark this season, failed to adequately get into the game; Philippe Coutinho, only just back from injury looked off the pace, and lacked sharpness.
The one major chance Liverpool had to equalise was a back-post header cleared off the line – Coutinho sliced the rebound wide from eight yards.
Oumar Niasse entered the field of play with twenty five minutes to go, and even he managed to score.
Jurgen Klopp brought on Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum in an attempt to find a goal, but it never came. Mane was again dispossessed in midfield, before Niasse ran clear through on goal to slot past Mignolet. Liverpool had so many players forward in attack only Lucas was close to challenging, and the striker easily had the pace to get away from him.
Liverpool failed to carve out chances, in stark contrast to earlier in the season when they were scoring goal after goal. Only last September were Hull City dispatched 5-1 at Anfield.
Jordan Henderson had a late, thumping strike saved well by Eldin Jakupovic in the Hull goal, but the game was gone. Liverpool will have to hope that a top four finish is not gone too, or the final part of the season will be a massive disappointment.
Simon Mignolet: 4
Did not have much to do, but when he was called on, the attempt to keep out Hull from the corner was borderline pathetic. It was his error that led to the opening goal.
Nathaniel Clyne: 6
Not particularly at fault defensively, but offered little going forward, apart from one or two crosses that no one was on the end of.
Joel Matip: 6
Has not been at his best since coming back into the team. Played some good passes, but also some poor ones, and looked uncomfortable alongside Lucas at times. He will hope to have Lovren back for the game at home to Tottenham, which could be pivotal in the top four race.
His lack of pace is concerning. Gave away too many stray passes, and did not cover himself in glory in the absence of the injured Dejan Lovren.
James Milner: 6
Very similar to the other full-back in that he was not majorly at fault defensively, but not good enough going the other way either. His refusal to go on the outside when attacking means he is often predictable and slows down the attack, and he rarely seems to get in on the wrong side of an opponent.
Jordan Henderson: 7
Performed steadily and tried to force from deep, but ultimately lacked movement in front of him. Not a great performance, but certainly not one of the worst players in this game.
Emre Can: 6
Quite pedestrian at times and was rightly withdrawn for an extra attacker. His inclusion in the side over Wijnaldum was a surprise given his struggle offensively recently, and he failed to repay the faith placed in him.
Adam Lallana: 6
Showed glimpses but nothing like the form that has seen him become a key player for Liverpool this season. Played some poor balls at times and struggled to break down the packed defence. Looked frustrated throughout.
Philippe Coutinho: 6
Liverpool’s most creative player, but he too struggled to find gaps in the defence to exploit. Lacked sharpness after coming back from injury, but still heavily influential.
Roberto Firmino: 5
Showed some good touches, but failed really to get into the game. Almost looked tired and lethargic, and whilst he did win the ball back well a few times, never really created anything like a chance and never got the opportunity to take one himself.
Sadio Mane: 7
Offered some width, and got at the Hull defence, certainly in the first half. Most of the good pieces of play came through him, and his willingness to run at people and get in behind.
Daniel Sturridge (67th minute sub.): 6
Failed to get into the game. One good piece of tracking back which will please Klopp, but not much going the other way.
Divock Origi (83rd minute sub.): 6
Offered some pace, but ultimately did not have enough time to make a big difference.
Alberto Moreno (83rd minute sub.): 4
Strange substitution. Did not do anything, although, like Origi, was not given much time in order to have an impact, especially already at 2-0 down.
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