Liverpool FC: Kenny Dalglish Has Defensive Problems to Solve
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When Liverpool take on Mick McCarthy's Wolves on Saturday, much of the pre-match discussion will be centered around the impending return to full-fitness of Steven Gerrard—and the form of Craig Bellamy.
Should Dalglish start Gerrard in the place of Adam or Henderson? Should Liverpool persist with Andy Carroll or attempt to nourish the flashes of understanding between Luis Suarez and Bellamy on display mid-week? Will John Henry's wife be attending?
All of this is important, but it is Liverpool's goals-against statistic that I would like to highlight here. The Reds currently sit in eighth spot having conceded seven goals, the most out of any team in the top half of the table. In the last three games Jaime Carragher has concerted two penalties, the first against Stoke ending up being the difference in the match. Simply put, leaky back lines don't win trophies.
Much of this defensive woe has been heaped on Jaime Carragher (both fair and unfair criticism) as well as on Martin Skrtel's inability to deal with the pace and incision of Gareth Bale at White Hart Lane.
In hindsight it's clear that Dalglish should have opted for a speedier Martin Kelly (who may not have been fully fit) or young John Flanagan, who deputised well against Manchester City at the end of last season.
Finally, anyone thinking Daniel Agger would have an injury-free season should send me a sample of what they're smoking, as the Dane once again faces a spell on the sidelines.
One aspect that has been addressed this season is plugging that bothersome left-back hole, and Jose Enrique has proven to be more than competent. Problem solved. So what do we do about the rest of this mess?
Watching Chris Smalling and especially Phil Jones rampage around the field for Manchester United is annoying, not only because Liverpool targeted Jones, but mostly because Dalglish didn't reinforce the back line this summer.
Sebastian Coates was clearly not ear-marked to slot right into the starting XI, but he very well may be fast-tracked to face Wolves this weekend.
Do Liverpool fans still dream of a team full of Carraghers?
The main problem at hand seems to be simply a lack of pace. Charlie Adam isn't going to be winning any sprints tracking back, and the more fluid Liverpool play is, the more exposed they will be on the counter-attack.
Our first-choice back two of Carragher and Skrtel is desperately lacking in mobility and, worryingly, strength—as evidenced by Jermaine Defoe, yes that's right Jermaine Defoe managing to out-muscle Skrtel on a pretty standard hoofed ball last weekend.
Coates didn't show any prominent turn of speed for Uruguay in this summer's Copa America, though to be fair they played a rather deep defensive line.
There is speed abound on our flanks as neither Enrique, Kelly, Glen Johnson, Flanagan nor Jack Robinson are slouches by any description. A fit Johnson would certainly be a boon to both Liverpool and England, but he hasn't been able to get a good run in the team for some time. A fully-fit Martin Kelly solves this problem, but the issue remains that any isolation of our two center-backs spells immediate trouble.
If this weren't enough, it is getting just slightly harder to continue supporting Pepe Reina as one of the most underrated and brilliant goalkeepers in the Premier League. Just to be clear I'm not criticizing our No. 25 in any way, but his reputation as a penalty specialist has me unable to recollect a recent save from 12-yards.
Most of Tottenham's efforts left Reina with little to no chance, but it would be nice to see him perform the kind of blind robbery that we know he's capable of.
The problems of fitting Gerrard into this midfield, and just how exactly to get the best out of Andy Carroll, are immaterial if we continue to display the defensive resilience of a village facing the Mongolian horde.
So what does Kenny do at this point? Drop Henderson and introduce Spearing to bulk up a shielding midfield using 4-2-3-1? Resort to fielding all fit center-backs, and keep the ball with a 3-5-2? Drop stand-in captain Jaime Carragher and see what this Coates is made of?
Liverpool's next three fixtures read Wolves at home, Everton at Goodison Park before Sir Alex Ferguson brings his army to Anfield on October 15th. Neither Wolverhampton nor Everton have shown a great deal of teeth and menace this season up front, which should give Dalglish some breathing space.
All experimenting will come to an end when Liverpool's back line will be examined by Ashley Young, an in-form Nani and Javier Hernandez. Not to mention this season's Fantasy MVP Wayne Rooney.
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