Liverpool's Surprisingly Amazing Defence Key to Great Start, Win over Man United

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates with his team-mates at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on September 01, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool beat Manchester United by a slim 1-0 scoreline at Anfield on Sunday, and although the main event took place on the pitch and resulted in another three points for the Reds, an interesting subplot to the team's season unfolded up above.

For, looking down on the Anfield turf from the directors' box on high, sat Mamadou Sakho and Thiago Ilori, accompanied by Kolo Toure, Aly Cissokho and Victor Moses.

Moses, Ilori and Sakho at Anfield today.

— LFC Fans Corner (@LFCFansCorner) September 1, 2013

Cissokho, of course, has already debuted for Liverpool and is injured, while Toure played a huge part in the Reds' first two league games, but the other three are soon to be confirmed as the newest additions to the Reds' first-team squad.

Moses, as an attacker, was very much the odd one out of the collection, but Cissokho, Ilori and Sakho in particular would have had a clear message sent up to them from below: This is what you have to be better than, to play in this team.

Stoke City, Aston Villa and Manchester United have all given Liverpool plenty to repel with their combined powers of attack early on this season, and all have dominated the second half of matches against the Reds. But, crucially and more than a little surprisingly, Liverpool have held firm and shown a rigidity and resolute willingness to stand tall and be counted this season.

Three games, three wins, three clean sheets.

Never in the history of the Premier League has a team managed such a start, and while it's hardly indicative of an imminent title challenge from Liverpool, it does leave the team top of the Premier League table heading into the international break and with plenty of reasons for positivity.

The third time #LFC have won their opening 3 games of a Premier League campaign and the first since 1994-95.

— Ged Rea (@ged0407) September 1, 2013

Daniel Sturridge keeps finding himself in the headlines and rightly so, for it is his three goals that have given the Reds victories and points with all 1-0 wins so far. His strikes would have been for nothing, though, if it had not been for the sterling efforts of the team in a defensive sense over the past three weeks, and especially in the win over Manchester United.

Full-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique have been especially derided over the past eight or nine months, and with some justification, but it was far from the fault of those two alone that the Reds' defence at times seemed as porous as their public relations department.

Lucas Leiva, too, has suffered from poor form and questions over his place in the team, but all three chose the match against United to put in their best performance of the calendar year.

But it is more than mere individuals that have made this Liverpool side fragile, frail and frivolous with slender leads in the face of heavy pressure over the past three seasons.

It has been, in fact, a group mentality with a terribly soft core. Too many youngsters, too many players from lower-placed clubs coming in, too many managerial changes; blame what you will, but the fact was that when Liverpool were put under pressure, they invariably eventually conceded. And when one goal was conceded, it was often followed by a second.

This season, despite a lack of defensive reinforcements brought in over the transfer window so far, that looks to have changed.

Jordan Henderson continues his exponential growth and serves to both protect and lead from his varying midfield positions, while Steven Gerrard has shown every ounce of his captain material with back-to-back performances of the kind he produced as a youngster; shielding the defence, thundering into tackles and barking out orders at opposition, referees and team-mates alike.

There has been no wilting, weakening or lack of concentration. There have been no weak links and no underperformers who have cost points or late disappointments.

It's not to say everything has been perfect—a late penalty, the usual set piece worries and a few super Simon Mignolet stops show that much work remains ahead to keep up this run—but everything has worked, to the extent that Liverpool have kept three clean sheets.

And, in the face of the strength and aerial threat of Stoke, the Christian Benteke-inspired Villa attack and the all-round, Premier League title-holding ability of Manchester United...that is no small feat.

So look down, and wonder, Messrs. Sakho, Cissokho and Ilori.

Do you have what it takes to steal a spot in defence and produce not just the same level of intensity, reliability and quality, but even better?

Sat alongside them, Kolo Toure could have been giving minute-by-minute instructions on what Brendan Rodgers' tactics demand of his fellow defenders. The big Ivorian has been a huge part of the first two league wins, and his absence through injury will have caused more than a few sleepless nights over the weekend. Martin Skrtel deserves credit for putting in such a fine performance in his stead.

0. Liverpool are the only side in all 4 divisions to have not conceded a goal so far this season. Kolo.

— Opta Liverpool (@OptaLiverpool) September 1, 2013

Transfer deadline day is upon us, and defensive additions will be the main order of the day at Melwood.

Rodgers believes they can contribute to the team and improve the group. Should that be the case, and should this newfound resilience, defensive strength and mental resolve continue to be showcased by the Reds, then an almightily entertaining season may well lie ahead.

Except for those who enjoy games full of both teams scoring the goals, of course.



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