Roy Hodgson's Premier League debut as Liverpool manager was one of the oddest games of the 2010-11 season. It featured a sending off for the Reds, lots of terribly misplaced passes and a result that everyone wanted to move on from. Liverpool were very lucky to nick a 1-1 draw from Arsenal on that day, even though the Arsenal equalizer came in stoppage time, off an uncharacteristic howler by Pepe Reina.
Joe Cole was sent off just before the stroke of halftime in that match for a terrible challenge on Laurent Koscielny. His debut was one of the worst for any big club in recent memory. Incredibly, David Ngog put 10-man Liverpool ahead just after the halftime break, but Arsenal eventually found an equalizer to draw a game that they should have won much more easily, even without Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie fit to start.
The result of Saturday's match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool was infinitely more disastrous than the result in Hodgson's debut, but the performance brought back memories of that match back in 2010. After all, there was nothing about Hodgson's tactics or Liverpool's play that caused Samir Nasri, Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin fail to convert chances. The Baggies' 3-0 win might look worse than Hodgson's debut on paper, but the two matches were very similar.
Hodgson and Rodgers arrived at Liverpool with similar recent accomplishments, and public perception of both men was similar as well. Both are British, though neither is really thought of as an British-style manager. Though Hodgson has been around Europe and is extremely experienced as a coach outside of the British Isles, Rodgers is thought of as just as 'continental' of a manager as Hodgson, mostly due to the style of football his teams play.
As well-regarded continental-style British managers who had recently exceeded expectations with similarly average teams, possessing small grounds and weak finances, both had been pushed by fans and media as managers who could achieve something great if given some talent and money to spend. They both arrived at Liverpool, expected to help start a period of upward trajectory at Anfield like they did with their previous sides. Hodgson failed. No one will know whether or not Rodgers was a successful hire for Liverpool for a very long time.
But like Hodgson, Rodgers' Premier League debut as Liverpool manager was a disaster. Rodgers' debut also came against a weaker side, with a better Liverpool team at his disposal, and there were more similarities between the two matches than just poor results.
Both debuts featured a new system implemented by a new manager, with Steven Gerrard somewhere other than his normal preferred position. Gerrard wasn't poor and was hardly Liverpool's biggest problem, but failed to create much of note. On Hodgson's debut, the new creative focal point of the Liverpool team was supposed to be Cole, who failed miserably. Last Saturday, most of the play ran through Joe Allen, though his primary responsibility appeared to be recycling possession, not creating scoring chances. It seems as though that's still supposed to be Gerrard's job, just from a slightly deeper role than he played during the Rafael Benitez era.
This wasn't all Gerrard's fault, which is important to note, since he unfairly picks up a lot of the blame whenever Liverpool play poorly. He was far from spectacular, but was by no means their worst attacking player. Luis Suarez squandered numerous opportunities, Fabio Borini looked like he was a bit overcome by the occasion of his league debut with Liverpool, and Stewart Downing was as average as he always is.
Gerrard also deserves some criticism, and there's an obvious parallel between his performances in Hodgson's debut and Rodgers' debut. Even taking the average play of his teammates into account, Gerrard was expected to create from a deeper role than his preferred role. He didn't look completely comfortable, and he didn't play his best game. Cole and Allen are not the same player, but Gerrard's resulting role and lack of production in the two games was eerily similar.
Rodgers' debut, like Hodgson's, also saw a Liverpool player pick up a silly and unnecessary red card. On this occasion, Cole was replaced by Daniel Agger, who effectively ended the game with his denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity in the 58th minute. Shane Long missed the ensuing penalty, but it only delayed the inevitable beating. Peter Odemwingie scored a penalty four minutes later and Romelu Lukaku capped off the 3-0 victory for West Brom in the 77th minute.
This is where the similarities between the two debuts end. While both featured a team struggling to play new tactics, a poor result, a red card and a mediocre performance by Gerrard, Hodgson's Liverpool team drew a Champions League side. Rodgers' team was issued a second half beatdown by a mid-table side who was expected to experience a bit of a drop-off this season after Hodgson left The Hawthornes to take the England job.
However, Rodgers' side did do something infinitely better than Hodgson's. They actually displayed some understanding of what their manager wanted them to do, played some respectable football, and were the better side during the first half. While Cole was absolutely abysmal on his Liverpool debut, Allen was the Reds' best player on Saturday. Cole's signing and the resulting tactical adjustments were an instant disaster that Liverpool never recovered from, but the same cannot be said for Allen and the changes that Rodgers has made to the team.
A 3-0 loss to West Brom looks like a worse result than a 1-1 draw against Arsenal on paper. The missed penalty by Long, a red card to the best defender on a team light on central defenders and the strength of Liverpool's current squad relative to the squad Hodgson had at his disposal makes it look even worse. But unlike Hodgson's debut, Liverpool actually played some good football on Rodgers' debut and got their new signings involved. Allen and Borini are a lot better than Cole and Milan Jovanovic. Until Agger's red card, Liverpool didn't look like a disaster. In Hodgson's first game as manager, Liverpool were poor for the vast majority of the match.
In another eerie similarity between the beginning of these two managerial campaigns, Liverpool plays Manchester City this weekend. A match against City was also the second in Hodgson's reign as Liverpool manager, and it went horribly. The Reds were awful in a 3-0 slaughter at the hands of City, who were still in the middle of becoming the juggernaut that they are today.
If Rodgers can manage to engineer a performance better than the one Liverpool put in against City in the second game of Hodgson's tenure, the club's supporters might have something to feel good about.