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With three wins out of three consecutive away games, two clean sheets yet still three conceded on Saturday against the team second from bottom at kickoff, and 12 goals scored in the process, Brendan Rodgers’ title challengers return to some home comforts this week, starting off with a visit of Gus Poyet’s Sunderland side to Anfield on Wednesday night, before Tim Sherwood brings his Tottenham Hotspur side to Merseyside on Sunday.
Liverpool’s defence looked to have turned the corner after two fine displays at Southampton and Manchester United, keeping both out and generally looking quite comfortable, especially against United. However on Saturday, they allowed the home side to go in front twice, as well as giving away a consolation goal near the end when the Reds were seemingly firmly in control.
Martin Skrtel will come away with most of the plaudits amongst the defenders at Cardiff, with Glen Johnson not far behind. Even then, it was the attacking sides of their game that is mentioned. Skrtel scored Liverpool’s second equaliser just before half-time with a striker-esque goal, before powering home a far post header to give Liverpool the lead. Johnson finally looked like his old self, driving forward on the right wing and having a hand in Luis Suarez’s first two goals.
Shaky Once Again
However, along with Daniel Agger and Jon Flanagan, the whole defence looked shaky yet again. Cardiff’s first two goals came from Liverpool’s left, and admittedly both could be attributed to Joe Allen. For the first, he misplaced his pass to Flanagan which allowed Frazier Campbell to nip in and cross for Jordan Mutch to finish low in the corner. For the second, Allen failed to pressure Mutch, who had time to send the ball down the channel toward Campbell. The former United man managed to outfox Agger and send the Cardiff City Stadium to raptures for the second time.
To be fair, with Allen playing in a slightly tucked in position on the left of the diamond, Cardiff found it easy in the early moments to overload on that flank and outnumber Flanagan. Rodgers will surely have to look at this aspect and give more support to the left side when defending, maybe pulling Daniel Sturridge or Suarez back when not in possession of the ball.
The forward line looked magnificent again, especially in the second half, looking a menace every time they pushed forward. But yet again gave Cardiff an easy consolation. Kevin Theophile-Catherine had enough space and time to cross from the right side of the penalty box to substitute Kenwyne Jones, who was supposed to be marked by Skrtel. Jones cushioned his header down to Mutch, who was supposed to be picked up by Agger, and Mutch cooly headed past Simon Mignolet. Another poor goal to concede, and yet again Rodgers have to look to solidify his defence ahead of Sunderland’s visit.
Another Tactical Change?
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Fortunately, Sunderland’s form player, Fabio Borini, is ineligible due to being on loan from Liverpool. Still, Adam Johnson’s form in the last couple of months has been sensational and will look to use this game as a platform to revive his World Cup chances, and Poyet might look to use his flying winger to torment Flanagan. This is one key area where Sunderland will threaten, and with Liverpool’s left side looking vulnerable on Saturday, Rodgers has to find a way to shield this area.
This may be a crazy thought, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lucas Leiva return to the team at the expense of Allen. Whether on the left with sole responsibility of protecting Flanagan and Liverpool’s left side should Rodgers stick to his midfield diamond, or sit beside Steven Gerrard should Rodgers switch to a narrow 4-4-2, with Jordan Henderson coming inside from the right to form a midfield three when defending.
Personally, I would play Raheem Sterling ahead of Philipp Coutinho, and get him to run at or beyond either full-backs, more specifically at Phil Bardsley, who is an easy target to collect a booking and possibly a sending off. The rest of the team will more or less line up the same as always, and as usual the Reds will look to send the ball to SAS as fast as possible, to allow them to isolate Sunderland’s centre backs John O’Shea and Wes Brown, who are good in the air but slightly suspect when one-on-one. If Liverpool manage to do this, they should comfortably prevail and continue their magnificent home record.