Yesterday’s game against Swansea was exciting – there’s no doubt about that. It was the type of game neutrals will have watched and genuinely enjoyed. But if you’re following one of the teams involved, particularly the one trying to cement fourth place, who have an outside chance of winning the league, that enjoyment could easily have been snatched away in an instant.
The team came very close to drawing a game they were winning 2-0. There were so many ups and downs – I was exhausted after the game. And I was only watching. Can you imagine how that battle will have drained the Liverpool players? It’s a good job they’re only playing one game a week at the moment.
Of course, the way the team are playing is amazing. Along with Man City, Liverpool have played the best football in the Premier League this season. The 5-0 win over Spurs, the 4-0 demolition of local rivals Everton and the 5-1 hammering of Arsenal all prove this. By any standards these are fabulous results. But it is incredibly difficult to continue scoring like that. Man City are finding this out at the moment. They aren’t creating the amount of goals that they were earlier in the season. So a solid defence is important too.
Against Swansea, the way the team linked up when going forward was breathtaking at times. The back heels, flicks and through balls looked sensational. Liverpool were like Brazil going forward and like Bury at the back. But as great as that attacking prowess is, the awful defending could cost the team and that would be a shame.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that I would prefer to be watching Jose Mourinho’s brand of football – frankly, that’s a great cure for insomnia. Liverpool’s defensive play does need to improve though.
People might say the team was missing Lucas. And they would be right. But there have been errors at the back in games when he’s played this season. And anyway, who would Lucas replace? Gerrard is currently playing the CDM role. Would Rodgers really drop him? If the manager were to go with two holding players, who does he favour in front of them? The much-improved Henderson, who was the match winner yesterday, or the influential Coutinho who is amazing on his day but tends to drift in and out of games? Personally I think Gerrard can play the Alonso role where he picks up the ball and starts an attack from deep but he does need a Mascherano alongside him to break the play up. When Allen came on the team instantly looked more solid but unfortunately, in bringing him on, Rodgers was forced to sacrifice the pace and trickery of Sterling.
The bigger problem concerns the centre backs. On paper, Liverpool have four top class defenders in Agger, Sakho, Skrtel and Toure. I’m not so sure though. If you’re being brutal, and brutality is something that you need to demonstrate in the quest for perfection, each of these players has their flaws. I believe Agger is Liverpool’s best defender but he gets injured a lot and it’s hard to base the defence around him. The club’s other left-sided centre back, Sakho, has had a mixed start but that can be attributed to the fact that he has had to adapt to the Premier League. Granted, he has sustained a bad injury and only time will tell if this was a one off or if he will be the type of player who repeatedly has spells on the sidelines. But for now, I would suggest that the French international will be the future rock that the team is based on, providing he stays injury-free. Skrtel has put in some fantastic performances this season but he has also made a lot of costly mistakes. He has been unlucky to concede several own goals and despite his size and physique, he isn’t commanding in the air. The penalty he gave away yesterday might have been soft but it had been coming for a while. All season he has been grappling with forwards when defending set pieces and it finally caught up with him. Finally, Toure is great on his day and his early form for the club was brilliant, but he sometimes loses concentration, which has been demonstrated in recent weeks.
For me, the team is more balanced when it features a right and left-sided centre back together. If Liverpool could get in the region of £15m for Skrtel, I would sell him in the summer and either give Llori a chance or get someone new in. Sakho would be my first choice moving forward, with Agger as his replacement when needed, although the Dane might not settle for being second choice. The fact is though, with the extra fixtures that European football will bring, the club needs four strong centre backs with the two who are first choice perhaps being rested for the domestic cup games. Defensive stability won’t be achieved if the manager continues to chop and change in the league.
Brendan Rodgers is right to put the emphasis on attack and Liverpool should definitely keep playing the way they are. Eight times out of the last ten seasons the most prolific team has won the league so it’s no coincidence that the club is in the mix this year. If the players can just cut out some of the mistakes at the back this could be an unbelievable season.