Liverpool, under Brendan Rodgers this season, officially have the most potent attack in the Premier League, at this stage of the current campaign at any rate. With Spurs falling six points behind Liverpool following the weekend’s results, The Reds seem certain to keep hold of fourth spot and secure Euefa Champions League football next season.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have now scored 70 league goals this season compared to next-best Manchester City’s 69, but it’s in defense where Liverpool are coming unstuck. To echo the sentiments of many a fan and critic, defensive lapses have cost them dearly this season, and not just in respect to goal difference, but results in general.
Having conceded 35 goals from 27 games in the league, Liverpool currently has the 11th worst defense of all Premier League sides, and indeed, the second worst defense of the top 12 teams, with only Newcastle in the top 10 having conceded 38 goals from the same amount of games. And this from a team lying fourth in the table!
This then speaks volumes for how well Sturridge and company are performing at the other end of the pitch, though Rodgers should surely now pour a little more concentration into matters at the back. Scraping victories over the likes of bottom-side Fulham, and Swansea in twelfth – at home – is surely worrisome.
Of course, the team performed admirably to beat Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield two weeks ago, but to expect, or even hope for, similar freak shows away to Southampton and Manchester United, and at home against Spurs, Man City, Chelsea and Newcastle in the league season run-in is surely too tall an order. Even more so, when one considers that league-leaders, Chelsea, boast the best defense in the entire league, conceding less than a goal per game – the only Premier League team to do so.
The Chelsea game especially seems to be where fire and ice could meet. Liverpool will play host to The Blues at Anfield at the end of April and Suarez is due for a return to scoring form, while Daniel Sturridge appears to be incapable of not scoring in league fixtures.
Back on topic: defensive frailties are clearly Liverpool’s Achilles heel, in spite of having a few of the more sought-after defensive players in Europe. Martin Skrtel, in particular has been prone to offering penalties and dangerous free-kicks to opposition, and it was only a matter of time before referees started to take notice and clamp down on his ill-disciplined antics.
Rodgers may claim that Wilfried Bony went down a little easily for Swansea at the weekend, but he could have no argument that Skrtel has been testing referees’ patients for some time now and that Liverpool have been fortunate not to have conceded many more penalties given the Slovakian’s behavior this term. My biggest concern regarding Skrtel is that he appears to want to impede opponents, rather than deal with the ball directly – especially in set-piece situations.
Kolo Toure is another player having to endure a torrid spell for Liverpool at the moment, even scoring for Fulham against his own team a few weeks ago. The former Arsenal and Manchester City man appears to be the opposite of composed on a number of occasions of late. His own-goal in the Fulham game came about under little pressure, with seemingly enough time to clear the threat with even Lewis Holtby appearing to have given up on Kieran Richardson’s centre from the edge of the Liverpool area.
Not to mention Toure’s careless pass across the Liverpool backline against West Brom at the Hawthorns in early February. This in particular sparks a notion that Brendan Rodgers may not be spending much time at all on defensive drills in training.
Aly Cissokho is another unconvincing summer arrival, though I shan’t dwell too long on his numerous faux pas this season. Daniel Agger has only made 10 appearances this term largely as a result of injury, while Uruguayan prodigy, Sebestian Coates, is a long-term absentee and hardly a first-team regular when fit in any case.
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom for the Liverpool rearguard with Jon Flanagan, in particular, carrying the torch for The Red’s backline. Fast, tough-tackling and willing to get forward, the youngster seems to ply his trade in the Patrice Evra/Ashley Cole mould.
Martin Kelly is equally promising in my opinion, though Rodgers seems to feel otherwise, as Kelly has only made four substitute appearances all season.
All this has equated to a woeful record of only 2 clean sheets in 11 games for Rodgers’ side, and a total of 4 clean sheets for Liverpool all season.
For all Brendan Rodger’s talk of playing ‘balanced football’, or fielding a ‘balanced team’, Liverpool do appear to be somewhat ‘top-heavy’ in a manner of speaking. Creative and attack-minded players make up more than half the Liverpool team at present, with Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, and Philipe Coutinho in midfield, and Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up front. When one considers that even Flanagan and Glen Johnson can often be found in and around the opposition penalty area, it only serves to increase that number.
The defensive midfield prowess of Lucas Leiva, in particular, seems to be sorely missed at the moment as the back four have little protection – something desperately needed given their aforementioned carelessness. Fortunately for The Reds, the Brazilian is due for a return to action sooner rather than later, so their defensive record could improve as the season winds down.
As stated earlier, Liverpool’s forwards are the sole reason they are still in the title race. In my opinion, they still won’t win the league this season, but Rodgers has unquestionably instilled a never-say-die attitude in the team. A season or two ago, had they been drawing or losing, Liverpool’s focus may have turned to damage limitation rather than going for victory outright, which they are certainly doing these days.
The main question to be answered in the coming weeks is: How much longer can Liverpool’s attacking players keep them afloat? Little seems to be going on to stop the team from bleeding goals, so the onus is clearly on The Reds’ attackers to keep Man United, Spurs and Everton at arm’s length, and to keep up the pressure on the three teams above them.
Interesting times lie ahead and regardless of how it all plays out – I love this game (to paraphrase an old NBA slogan).