Liverpool struggling to cope with extra demands

Liverpool is still licking its wounds after going down 3-1 against West Ham United.

FILE: Liverpool is still licking its wounds after going down 3-1 against West Ham United. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Coping with tricky Premier League fixtures a few days after Champions League exertions is a knack Liverpool must learn quickly if this campaign does not become a second-rate sequel to last season's thriller.

On the evidence of a 3-1 defeat at West Ham United on Saturday they have some way to go.

Liverpool expended more energy than they would have liked to see of Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgra in midweek, needing a last-gasp Steven Gerrard penalty to get their first Champions League campaign since 2009-10 off to a winning start.

It was evident against West Ham, particularly in a careless opening seven minutes in which they all but surrendered any hope of bouncing back from last weekend's home defeat by Aston Villa.

The bubbles that traditionally greet West Ham before kickoff were still floating around Upton Park when an unmarked Winston Reid nodded in after a corner was headed back across goal by the equally unmarked James Tomkins.

It got even worse five minutes later when Diafra Sakho's flighted cross aimed at Enner Valencia went straight in, sending the home crowd wild.

Raheem Sterling, Liverpool best player, replied with a fiercely struck shot midway through the first half after good work by Mario Balotelli, but it was never going to be Liverpool's day.

Fabio Borini curled one effort over the bar and Balotelli forced a sharp save from West Ham keeper Adrian but with Gerrard and Jordan Henderson having little impact in midfield, Liverpool laboured.

Substitute Morgan Amalfitano's late effort clinched a well-deserved victory for a vibrant West Ham side, leaving Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers with a furrowed brow as the derby against Everton looms next week.

With last season's Premier League top scorer Luis Suarez sold to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge injured, Balotelli showed occasional flashes up front for Liverpool, but the evidence suggests that, despite a raft of new signings, they may struggle.

SLUGGISH START

Rodgers pointed to a sluggish start to last season before things clicked and to an impressive 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur on their last visit to London, but with three defeats in the opening five league games Liverpool look off the pace.

"We were very disappointing," Rodgers, who looked set to lead his side to the title last season only to be overtaken in the run-in by Manchester City, told reporters.

"We've set an expectancy level at the club. Liverpool as a football club is always a club that people want to beat but now we are in the Champions League that's even more the case.

"West Ham had better intensity than us and our performance level wasn't anywhere near what I would expect, too many long passes, not enough composure on the ball, but that's something we will look at on the training ground.

"I'm lucky in that I have a fantastic group of players that know that's not the level we expect and over the course of the season we will get better and better."

After over-achieving, according to Rodgers, last season, the Northern Irishman is not even thinking about a title challenge.

"I've always said we were a work in progress and I think we arrived early last season," he said.

"I think everyone looks at Man City and Chelsea as the two squads that are up for the (title). There are no limits on what we want to achieve here but we just have to keep moving forward and progressing.

"So at this moment in time, we have lost three out of five games and need to be much better so I don't think we can even entertain talk of (the title) until we get some consistency."