In defence of the revolution

Posted by guest on February 7, 2013, 02:13:29 PM

Wrote this yesterday - what timing!

From 1 September, Liverpool pressed their face against the transfer window and looked wistfully into the barren distance for a goalscorer. After years of dwindling goal tallies, it seemed the acquisition of one would be a simple solution to their problems. They missed out on Clint Dempsey; they would not make the same mistake twice.

The signing of Daniel Sturridge was essential – four goals in his first six games already point to the move being a masterstroke. In the four games he and Luis Suárez have started together, Liverpool have scored 11 times. The decline up front has started to reverse.

But as the bated breath of the club steamed up the window as they waited for a striker, there was a neglect of the hodgepodge lurking behind them.

This is Anfield, where the process of building towards a stable future is somewhat akin to a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole, with Rodgers now the man to blast one mole into oblivion only to see another appear elsewhere.

Liverpool’s defence is now officially an issue. It is porous and ragged, bereft of confidence and self-belief. Rodgers’ side have conceded two or more goals in 13 of their 25 league games this season, while 10 individual errors have led to goals. With 13 games to play, the Reds have already conceded 32 goals – by way of comparison, the 2009-10 season ended with just 35 in the goals-against column.

Liverpool are a team habitually founded on defensive stability. In the title-winning season of 1978-79 they conceded just 16 goals in 42 games – four of them at home. In more recent eras, Gérard Houllier’s treble-winning side was largely founded on clean sheets, while Rafael Benítez’s Champions League success was defined by shut-outs away to Juventus and Chelsea.

Yet figures only tell part of this sorry tale. For the full narrative, observe the transformation of last year’s player of the season, Martin Skrtel, from colossus to walking catastrophe as he wrestles futilely with strong opposition centre forwards. See Daniel Agger, the tattooed steed, lose concentration and late runners into the box. See Pepe Reina, once one of the world’s best goalkeepers, always looking a moment away from cataclysm.

These are not bad players. In fact, Reina and Agger are very good, while Skrtel – though inconsistent – demonstrated his true capabilities last season. It is not just this trio, either: José Enrique, while improving, is an enterprising full-back prone to making brainless decisions, and while Andre Wisdom could be an England defender for years to come, only experience will eradicate his ball-watching.

It says a lot when Jamie Carragher, so readily written off in recent times, is the outstanding defensive performer at the age of 35. What little pace he once had may have evaporated completely, and those lung-busting blocks are now a rarity, but he still provides organisation, nous and experience. The more strained ears in the stands can hear Carragher’s dog-whistle Bootle voice shrieking instructions to all.

It still is not good enough, of course, especially with the announcement that the old warhorse is putting himself out to pasture at the end of the season. Though two points against Arsenal and Manchester City away were welcome, the is the feeling that it could have been more.

With the forward positions seemingly sorted, Rodgers must look to fix his rearguard – though it is not entirely an issue of individuals. The defence is not protected enough by the midfield at times, particularly given Lucas Leiva’s continued absence through injury. There is also the issue of learning a new way of playing on the job, with the cogs noticeably turning in players’ heads as they adapt to a new style of style.

On top of that is a suggestion that, given the disharmony between the back five at times, the onus in training sessions is on the attack. With no big, strong centre forward to train with, perhaps it is little surprise Skrtel and Agger struggle against such types on weekends.

The defence should not be completely written off, even though the individual errors continue to furrow brows. Tweaks all over the pitch can help, as can time. But after five years of Agger, Skrtel, Carragher and Reina constantly rotating as the central spine, perhaps a change is needed.

Now is the time to re-assess options available ahead of the summer – especially with Carragher on his way. Sebastián Coates will likely leave and Enrique needs competition– as do Agger and Skrtel. A big, physical centre-back and a left-back are on the agenda, then.

It is time to look past the transfer window once more, though care should be taken not to disregard the overall balance and let the glass get so steamy this time.


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