Liverpool: Defensive Frailties Threaten Brendan Rodgers' Vision
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It’s beginning to sound like a repetitive story, filled with clichéd schemes and the almost inevitable plot twist at the end of it all, as Liverpool—for all their possession, intent and purpose—once again failed to yield the result their good work deserved.
On several occasions this season, Brendan Rodgers’ team has been excused due to bad luck. In many ways they were unlucky again on Thursday night against Udinese. Equally as often, Liverpool’s profligacies have been of their own doing, particularly as they exhibit naivety in their defensive duties.
One thing is certain though: Liverpool haven’t managed a clean sheet for over a month, since a narrow 0-1 away win at Hearts in the qualifying stages of the Europa league, and it’s becoming a serious issue that demands immediate attention.
Rodgers, following the Anfield shock last night, launched a scathing tirade against his men, for what he deemed to be sloppiness and laziness on their part, but the problems appear to be a culmination of negative factors.
All teams are prone to individual errors; they are an element of the game that you can’t fully prepare for. The Merseysiders, this campaign, seem to be more prone to them than other clubs however.
Yesterday, it was the unfortunate Sebastian Coates—who had been having an accomplished game prior to the slipup—who put the ball into his own net from close range. More annoyingly is the fact that the own goal followed Shelvey’s point-blank miss at the other end, that would have seen the Reds re-establish their lead.
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The game before that against Norwich, it was a fumble by stopper Pepe Reina and a misjudgement by Liverpool’s Player of the Season last year, Martin Skrtel, that flattered The Canaries.
In the Capital One Cup match against West Bromwich Albion, stand-in keeper Brad Jones fumbled an easy catch for The Baggies’ only goal. And the list goes on.
Are these blunders due to the quality of Rodgers’ personnel? Most probably no; at least one would hope not, as the culpable players have more then regularly been Liverpool’s key, experienced, tried-and-trusted stalwarts.
No, the Reds are guilty of two of the most common lapses in football: complacency and lack of concentration. It’s something that Rodgers has highlighted already this season as rectifiable, yet his squad seem to have flouted the message.
The Ulster man will need to find a way of getting his squad to remain focussed and respectful to their opponents for the 90 minutes because, unlike previous Liverpool teams, Rodgers’ methods are neither rooted in impenetrable defensive tactics, nor are they about overindulgence in attack; rather, there is a basis of midfield control and domination—‘death by football’ as Liverpool fans have effectively dubbed it recently.
It works well. It just needs to work well for the entirety of any given tie. If Rodgers can find a way of getting this mentality across, then the issue will surely wane.
Carelessness in Possession
This could pretty much go hand-in-hand with individual errors, except that they can sometimes go unnoticed if they lead to nothing or occur further afield from where the goal is eventually scored. Case and point: Steven Gerrard— who in a scenario almost identical to the one which cost Liverpool a Podolski goal in their 0-2 loss to Arsenal—misplayed a pass in the opponents half that resulted in Udinese’s third.
Rest assured, I am not singling the talismanic captain out for particular scrutiny, I am merely using him as an example of how a bad pass can be terminal.
It happens to every club. So frequently we’ve seen a team in complete control: stroking the ball about, falling into a comfortable rhythm, then the opposition get their toe to a short pass and mount an ambush—Liverpool, in fact, witnessed this development twice against the men from Udine with both instances leading to emphatic finishes.
Undoubtedly, Liverpool are still adapting to Rodgers’ philosophy so, every once in a while, these stray passes may occur. Still, when they do happen, the Liverpool coach will want his players to react with more alacrity to rectify these situations, otherwise they will constantly prove costly.
Lack of Midfield Protection
Liverpool have had a few world class midfield blockades over the years—Mascherano, Hamann, even Alonso hasn’t looked outweighed during tough matches in that position.
Where do you rank Liverpool’s current marshal Lucas Leiva? I’d say that he is up there; if not the best that Liverpool have had in years in terms of sheer defensive capability.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, he hasn’t got an opportunity to test my claim for a few weeks still, as the Brazilian has been out with a long term injury. To add to his woes, Lucas’ absence has bared its glaring consequences—they were evident during Dalglish’s term and they’re evident again.
Liverpool do have players adept at filling in to some respects but, for all their passing skill and neat play, neither Allen nor Henderson are notorious for robust tackling, breaking up play or timely interceptions. Lucas—Liverpool’s Player of the Year for 2010-11 and the man responsible for the most successful tackles of any player in the four top European leagues in the same season—is.
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Liverpool need, somehow, for somebody to stand up and take the responsibility of being the disciplined protector who rarely strays but a few yards from his position atop of the defence. The only problem with this, however, is that the player will therefore become practically a nonfactor in aiding the team going forward.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Because the frailties are easily identified, in theory, they should be simply resolved. Liverpool have got the workforce to sort it out, so it’s up to BR, his players and his backroom staff to get the job done as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Let’s put things into perspective here regarding yesterday’s result: Though the team did introduce more first team regulars into the fold, there was still a predominance of inexperienced faces yet to adequately gel into the system.
Liverpool needn’t be too downhearted that they lost; there really is no shame in losing to a tough Udinese side teeming with imperious continental talent and class as they showed in brief yet lethal glimpses.
Beyond a bad spell in their opening day Premier League match against West Brom and an off day when they took on Arsenal, Liverpool have looked very impressive and very unlucky. Arguably, if they hadn’t experienced these hiccups and had a better rub of the green, they would be flourishing on all fronts.
Brendan Rodgers’ side must keep improving on their hard work, having established a sound platform to start this rebuilding process. Even though the platform isn’t as impenetrable as it once was, Liverpool look capable of scoring many goals, provided they remain as ruthlessly clinical as they were at Carrow Road. If they’re unable to sort out their defensive glitches, the old adage of ‘attack is the best form of defence’ may count doubly if they’re going to reinvent themselves as an elite force in international football again.
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