Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Liverpool's defence

It was all going so well. Bar a couple of blips, Liverpool had been progressing along reasonably nicely: second in the league, two strikers scoring goals left, right and centre, and an air of optimism sweeping across the city.

And then the derby. A derby draw should never be sniffed. Both teams will feel hard done by - Everton will be annoyed at Sturridge's late, late show. Liverpool will point to the Mirallas' foul on Suarez and gape in horror at Allen's miss - the sort of miss that only gets worse the more times you watch it.

That game should have been a wake-up call but it wasn't. Rodgers will have felt vindicated with his decision to throw on a semi-fit Sturridge who saved a point but deep down he will know that Liverpool - perhaps justly - walked away with a point.

Even with injuries - and injuries aren't a particularly good excuse all teams will suffer them and only suggest poor decisions elsewhere (such as, at this stage, the signing of Aspas, allowing Borini to leave on loan, or not promoting youngsters) - and in response to the derby one would have hoped for better against Hull. It wasn't that Liverpool lost but rather they looked utterly abject in doing so.

And here we turn to the most curious matter of all.

The club, even in the recent ''fag end' years, was built around a strong defensive platform. What seems to have occurred in recent months is that Rodgers has managed to get the attacking side of the game more or less right (the dismal days of Hodgson - which I described as like eating gruel with chop sticks seem long ago) but we've regressed defensively.

What supporters will struggle to understand is that the club has quality in defence but that quality doesn't seem to be reflected in performances. Far from it.

If it isn't shipping 10 goals in 4 away games (including 3 at Everton and 3 at Hull), it is not stepping up at set-pieces, it is making bad marking decisions, it is not playing the best players in the best positions. This is partly down to defensive errors and partly down to lack of protection.

Liverpool maybe short on resources up front and in central midfield but in central defence the club is overstocked - Sakho, Agger, Skrtel, Toure, Ilori, Coates and (the now on loan) Wisdom. That's before we consider Kelly who, like a few other players, suffers from Rodgers' curious catch-22: not getting picked because he hasn't had enough game time.

Rodgers focused on injuries and the attacking performance after Hull but, in his heart of hearts, he must know that the problems came from the defence. If you ship three goals it takes a stellar attacking performance to win after all. Suarez, even without Sturridge, is good enough to win games on his own but he shouldn't be relied on to do so.

So where are the issues?

The first is the centre-back pairing. In my view Liverpool's two best centre-back are Sakho and Agger. It is time that Rodgers give these two players a run in the team either as a duo or give them a significant run as part of a back three (a system Rodgers pioneered earlier in the season and which looked to be working reasonably well). At present, I do not believe Rodgers agrees with me in terms of his first choice centre-back duo. In fact, I'm not sure he knows who his first choice centre-back duo are.

Some - bizarrely - will argue that two left-footed centre-backs cannot play together. This seems an argument constructed to look clever on Twitter. If two right-footed centre-backs can play together (as they can and do) why not two left-footed centre-backs? Next.

The second is the level of cover and support that the midfield duo are offering. Liverpool, at home, can sweep past teams but away from home Gerrard and Lucas can be over-run. That only makes the problems in defence more obvious.

Whether that means moving Henderson or Allen more obviously into central midfield in certain games to help those two out. If he doesn't fancy that (and, if he doesn't, he'll need to buy someone in January) he'll need to think creatively and either promote Luis Alberto (who can play in a deeper role) or someone from the Under 21s such as Teixeira (who shone last night against Aston Villa).
So there we are. Three solutions for Brendan - picking the best two centre-backs at the club consistently; moving back to a back three built around those two; and beefing up the midfield for away games. The most important of those is picking Agger and Sakho. It isn't rocket science.



Anonymous said...

I see a lot of Liverpool fans being down on Agger this season, any thoughts on that?

sjdavis said...

I haven't seen many criticizing Agger, though I am only exposed to a small bubble of fans I know on Twitter.

The most criticism in terms of defense I've seen is on Skrtel, who I still think is top quality, but not as good as he once was. I agree with the author that Agger/Sakho is the best in terms of outright skill and ability, and I *think* Agger's leadership and influence is more than enough to oust Toure. Again, Toure is a top, top CB but he has lost a bit of pace and is not always as reflexive as we need. The order for me would be Agger/Sakho, next up Toure, Skrtel, Illori, Kelly. Hell, if Illori is worth the money we should sell Skrtel at the first chance we get and buy a shiny new defensive midfielder.

dearieme said...

"defense": well, really!

ManU get useful mileage out of playing the centre back Jones as a defensive midfielder. Everton get mileage out of Barry, who was a defender for parts of his career; Chelsea sometimes with Luiz. It's difficult having people change position for international matches because there is so little coaching time, but club sides should be able to pull it off occasionally. Liverpool have misspent so much on transfers over the past few years that maybe the internal options should be explored.

How much of the midfield problem is that Gerrard is getting old and has always been ill-disciplined positionally?

Rob Marrs said...


Yes, I thought of that. I wondered if a way to assist would have been to plonk one of the centre-backs into central midfield (I'd wager Agger was most likely to be able to succeed there). I still think a third midfielder (even if it is one we already have) would help a lot.

I think the problem isn't just Gerrard but the combination of Lucas and Gerrard. They both have strengths but their weaknesses actually makes the other's weaknesses stand out more.


dearieme said...

Ooooh, that Suarez, eh?