BOLTON 1 LIVERPOOL 0
Just after the hour mark on Sunday, the Bolton fans struck up a chant of “You're not very good”. It sounded timorous, almost as though they feared the consequences of taunting such an august club, yet the truth is that Liverpool these days are no longer to be feared, and here were just plain dismal.
The talk in the early days of Rafael Benitez's reign is of transition, but essentially Liverpool's problems are the same as they were last season. For all the talent in midfield, there is an odd diffidence about their play.
They began on Sunday with Milan Baros as a lone forward hardly an encouraging sign for fans who protested last season at the negativity of Gerard Houllier's tactical approach but it was a policy that neither produced chances nor subdued Bolton's 4-3-3 system.
Baros, a wisp of a player, simply did not have the physique to manufacture anything from the string of long balls pumped at him, and when Liverpool were not whacking it in his general direction, they were meticulously passing it sideways.
Xabi Alonso showed occasional glimmers of his undoubted talent, a couple of raking passes to his fellow debutant Luis Garcia catching the eye, but the concern both for Liverpool and England is what his arrival means for Steven Gerrard. With Dietmar Hamann also included in central midfield, Gerrard spent the first half looking uncomfortable in a more advanced role than usual, and the second looking uncomfortable wide on the right.
Garcia, meanwhile, never looked at home, either on the right where he began the game, on the left where he was shifted after half-time, or behind the front two where he ended up as Liverpool desperately chased an equaliser. That said, he did finish coolly when Hamann picked him out with seven minutes remaining, only to be erroneously ruled offside.
The broken nose suffered by Sami Hyypia was rolled out as an excuse as was transition. “It will take three or four months to find a powerful team,” Benitez said. “The [debutants] played well, but they can play better, and they have to learn that referees will allow more contact than in Spain.”
Bolton need no such comfort. They were not at their best on Sunday, but with the Tunisian centre-back Radhi Jaidi maintaining the good impression he made alongside Bruno N'Gotty at Southampton last week, they were solid enough defensively, and won thanks to Kevin Davies's 38th-minute strike.
Henrik Pedersen burst down the left, and when his low cross eluded Jerzy Dudek, Davies had time at the back post to thread a finish between John Arne Riise and Jamie Carragher. “They used their brains to great effect to get a fantastic victory,” said Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. “They won comfortably by using ball correctly and being defensively solid. Two years ago we wouldn't have been able to do that.” This Bolton, though, can, and, four games into the season, they sit third in the table.