Columnist Paul Tomkins assesses a disappointing first weekend and explains why Liverpool fans can approach the second with a lot of hope despite the West Brom defeat...
First of all, it's true to say that the opening weekend habitually springs surprise results. Teams, and individual players, are at different levels of fitness - with those at international tournaments not getting a consistent pre-season - and within a month or two the league settles down to something that more closely resembles the true strength of the teams.
As the statistician and author Graeme Riley noted on my site, Everton lost 4-1 at home to Spurs in 1985 and went on to win the league (not that Liverpool are expected to be in the running in 2012-13). It was also pointed out to me that the one side truly constructed by Brendan Rodgers actually won 5-0 away at QPR yesterday.
It's also true that Bill Shankly started his tenure with a 4-0 defeat, and Pep Guardiola lost his first La Liga game in charge of Barcelona to little Numancia. So the long-term picture doesn't always reflect the start.
(Note: I'm not saying it's therefore a good thing to start with a defeat; just that it doesn't always have much of a bearing. On the whole, then yes, the title winners will generally win more opening games than they lose, but that's because overall, they will win far more games than they lose. But teams regularly improve after poor or indifferent starts.)
"It's a marathon, not a sprint" is a cliché because it's true. The season is for Kiprotich, not Bolt.
It's also true that, up until the dismissal of Daniel Agger, the Reds were playing well, but with the familiar story of chances not being taken, and the opposition scoring out of the blue. I read that after 55 minutes, at which point Agger was sent off, Liverpool had completed 333 of 372 passes, compared to 135 of 183 by the home side, and also that Allen's passing rate in the first half was 97%. Rodgers' men were creating some clear cut chances, but they weren't putting them away.
Aside from Gera scoring with a quite brilliant and un-savable shot, it all seemed like a professional, controlled away performance. Luis Suarez was absolutely terrorising the Baggies' defence, but alas, kept narrowly missing the target. And in fairness to the home side, West Brom did look dangerous on the break, without really testing Reina.
What happened after Agger's dismissal was not pretty, but chasing the game when a man down on a scorching summer day was never going to be easy. The Reds got stretched at the back, and spaces were opening up, but you can't really judge a team too accurately when they're down to 10 men in those circumstances. West Brom used the numerical advantage well, it has to be said, but they were happy to play on the break.
Until the sending off, the Reds' pressing had been good - very fast and intense, although on a couple of occasions the defence looked too eager to instantly win the ball back rather than jockey. But Agger's red card seemed to knock the stuffing out of the players, and any hopes of a comeback were dashed by the second penalty award. (What is it with penalties at the Hawthorns? That's four conceded there in the past 18 months.)
I have to say that I thought the refereeing was incredibly inconsistent. I don't understand how the West Brom players could deliberately, and forcefully, foul their opponents without bookings - including two cynical examples of 'taking out' Suarez on the edge of their box - but every little slip or slightly late tackle by a man in a red shirt ended with a booking. There were several similar situations for both sides, where the away player got booked and the home one let off. The first penalty was for a foul that actually took place just outside the box. I've got no complaints with the second penalty decision, but at the other end, Martin Kelly was wrestled to the ground and nothing was given. These things happen, but it can affect results.
It will obviously take time for Brendan Rodgers to form a side that consistently fits his image, but any defeat hurts. Sometimes it smarts more on the opening day, as you've been looking forward to the game for months, and it's the only sample you can draw from (although we have had a taste in the Europa League, in which the Reds had been excellent at home to FC Gomel).
Despite the defeat, I thought Joe Allen looked very impressive in the first half, before the Reds were a man light. His control and passing were first-rate, and he exudes composure. Beside him, Lucas had performed a miracle just to be starting games so soon after his cruciate injury.
Fabio Borini had a quiet game against West Brom, but he's someone who can convert chances when they fall his way; at the Hawthorns the ball never did break his way, even when drifting infield to take up good central positions. His movement is very good, so he should find himself on the end of chances in future games.
The young Italian is a model professional, having come from a family of athletes for whom dedication was a byword. Carlo Ancelotti compared him with Filippo Inzaghi, so there's real potential there.
New winger Oussama Assaidi, as someone who on average scored a league goal every three games at Heerenveen, will also hopefully help add some cutting edge up front, although he, like Borini, may need time to settle. The Moroccan international looks an exciting talent, and someone who has been improving year on year, but he may have to start his Liverpool career as a sub, looking to make an impact.
It's been said that Liverpool desperately needed a good result against West Brom with such a tough run of games coming up, but as we saw last season, sometimes it's 'easier' to get results against the better teams, when the atmosphere lifts the players, and the expectation is a little less rampant.
To do well this season, Liverpool simply need to rack up a certain number of wins, and it doesn't really matter if it's against the 'easy' teams or the supposedly tougher ones; come May, if the points tally is healthy, then that's all that counts.
There will always be games that, at the end of any given season, are looked back on with a sense of "if only...", but sometimes putting in an incredible amount of effort in one game leaves less in the tank for the next one, no matter who the opposition is; and had things indeed been different, games that were won might instead have been lost.
In what is clearly another transitional season, as new players arrive and a new manager instils a new system of play, Liverpool will have their downs as well as ups, but hopefully enough of the latter to feel that, as the spring arrives, things are moving in the right direction.