Liverpool are swiftly becoming one of the league’s most entertaining sides for the neutral, but that is as much down to our leaky defence as it is our lethal attack.
Just looking at the back four against Stoke didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Glen Johnson, who I am a big fan of, is having an undeniably poor season. Skrtel and Toure are two experienced, able defenders. But for me they are our third and fourth best centre backs, behind the duo of Agger and Sakho who I would like to see partnered together more often when fit. And Aly Cissokho has failed to impress since he made his loan move here.
The Frenchman, who would have played second fiddle to Jose Enrique anyway, even found himself behind Jon Flanagan in the pecking order, though this was as much due to the youngster’s impressive performances as it was Cissokho’s ability. But it says a lot that Brendan Rodgers initially selected Flanagan rather than Cissokho to deputise for the injured Enrique.
Ahead of the defence we also seem to be caught in two minds as to how we want our midfield to operate. We found some solidity with impressive midfield performances away to both Man City and Chelsea, with using Lucas as the holding midfielder and Henderson and Allen as the runners in the ‘central corridor’ as the manager put it. This allowed the two in the middle freedom to press high up the pitch, make tackles and chase down loose balls, as well as be a threat in attack when we had the ball. Lucas was there as the safeguard, as well as taking up an important position between the central defenders allowing them to split, and therefore giving the full backs license to attack too when needed.
However, with Joe Allen picking up another injury, and Gerrard returning from his, the personnel available required yet another change in tactics. On paper it appeared that it would be the familiar set up of Lucas holding and the two England internationals ahead. But as demonstrated in previous games, Gerrard’s lack of stamina meant he wouldn’t be able to do the running and pressing in midfield that Allen and Henderson offer.
So what we saw was the captain holding back, and Lucas given a bit more freedom to roam from his position and close down the opposition.
One game is not enough to make any proper judgement on this formation just yet, but it does appear a system more suited to home games than away ones. With us playing higher up the pitch at Anfield, having Gerrard only slightly deeper shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But then the question is whether Lucas offers enough in attack to warrant him being one of the midfield runners. Swap those two around however, and we risk being static and immobile in the middle. Brendan Rodgers may soon have a difficult decision to make as to whether to leave out his skipper or our Brazilian number 21 if he is to deploy his preferred set up in the most effective manner.
If we can find a solution for how to utilise our midfielders in that system I am confident it is a tactic that can work well and make us tough to break down defensively.
As for the defenders, I am hopeful it is just a case of getting everyone fit and playing together for a few games to gel. Jose Enrique may not be the strongest link in our team, but we have missed him and defensively he is one of the top left backs in the league. Having him back will be a major plus for us.
Brendan Rodgers has so far been hesitant to play two left footed defenders together in Agger and Sakho, but in my opinion they are our two best centre backs, and I think they deserve a run together to prove that they can make it work.
Glen Johnson may be having his worst season as a Liverpool player. But defending was never his strong point anyway; it’s just that this season he is even failing to make up for it in attack. I don’t think any rash decision regarding him is necessary, but given his age and wages, I suspect that Brendan Rodgers may be on the lookout for a new right back in the summer, if not the coming weeks of the winter transfer window.
Jon Flanagan may feel he has earned a shot there, but in my opinion he makes a better left back. He is a player who goes into tackles, and is immediately looking to recycle possession by laying it off to someone close. Playing on that left side allows him to turn onto his right foot and find the best pass available. When at right back he often limits himself to only seeing the pass down the line to the right winger in front of him, which often isn’t on and we end up losing the ball.
I have no major long term concerns about our poor defensive record this season. We have chopped and changed our pairing, even opting for three at the back occasionally, and with two new centre backs and squad players filling in at left back, it would always take time. Once the manager has a preferred duo at the back and the midfield operating the way he likes, I am confident that we will look a lot more solid. Then our attack can concentrate on firing the goals in every week with the luxury of clean sheets to go with them.