Brendan Rodgers makes a solid defence for Liverpool rearguard
Ahead of Southampton clash Reds manager says he’d be happy to win 4-3 every week
Liverpool have scored four or more goals in nine of their 27 league games to date, a remarkable strike rate that last week enabled them to overtake Manchester City as the highest scorers in the Premier League. Unfortunately the 4-3 win over Swansea also highlighted why Liverpool have still to overtake City in the title race.
Unforced defensive errors keep costing them goals at the back, and Liverpool have easily the highest goals-against tally of the four clubs currently occupying the Champions League positions.
A win at Southampton on Saturday evening would allow Liverpool to leapfrog City in the table, by virtue of the latter’s involvement in Sunday’s League Cup final, even if Manuel Pellegrini’s side would then have two games in hand.
Chelsea are increasingly looking like the team to catch in any case and, though Jose Mourinho keeps moaning about his lack of goalscorers, his team are the only one in the division that can boast an average of under a goal a game for goals conceded.
If Chelsea’s miserly 21 goals against is the standard to which defences should aspire, Liverpool’s 35 is way off the mark, and never in the history of the Premier League has the title been claimed by sides that have let in so many by this stage of the season.
That will not necessarily worry Brendan Rodgers, who has reined in the title talk of late and seen his side make up ground on the leaders as well-placed outsiders, though he is aware that momentary lapses of concentration at the back can undo hours of good work going forward.
“Everyone has seen over a period of time that mistakes have cost us,” the Liverpool manager said. “It is an area that we are looking to improve and we will do. The first task on coming here was to improve the goals for total, and we have done that. If I get enough time in the job we will look to improve in the other areas too.”
One of Liverpool’s problems has been constant changes in the back line due to injuries, although in the game against Swansea Rodgers made a bold call in replacing Daniel Agger after an hour because he did not feel he was strong enough to deal with Wilfried Bony. “Daniel can deal with that, he’s been outstanding in training all week and he will play at Southampton no question,” Rodgers said. “There was a wee bit of a spotlight on him last week but this is a collective effort.
“I will judge every player, whether he is the team captain, centre-forward or a squad player, and make a decision if I think it will get us a result. I have showed that in my time here and it was no different last week.”
Rodgers rejects the charge that Liverpool are missing Jamie Carragher, or that the defence lacks a leader with sufficient personality to impose himself on opponents and maintain a level of defensive discipline. “We have showed resilience in coming back from behind enough times this season,” he said.
“I don’t think you can question the character of the team, and this is about the team, it’s not about any particular individual. I have been coaching for 20 years, I know what top defenders and centre-halves look like, and what it takes to play there.
“We have been unfortunate at times, some of the mistakes we have made have been through players trying to take responsibility, others have just been mistakes. We all make them, but I don’t think it is fair to suggest that all we do is set up to attack, to fly up the pitch without anyone thinking about defending.
“There is more substance to our work than that, we want to be a really balanced team. We have two great goalscorers but the whole team has a defensive responsibility too. If we concede it is because we are not pressing well enough at the other end.”
Southampton are still the only side to have won at Anfield in the league all season, Dejan Lovren scoring the only goal of the game in September, and have an excellent record against Liverpool at home, where they have lost only once in the past seven Premier League meetings.
Luis Suarez was still serving his suspension when Southampton won on Merseyside – he has managed to score 23 goals since – though a greater factor in the game was Rodgers reshuffling his back line to the extent of playing four centre-halves, with Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho fitting in as full-backs either side of Agger and Martin Skrtel. “It wasn’t ideal,” Rodgers said. “We had injuries that meant we had to play people in different positions than usual.”
While Rodgers will admit to being concerned about defensive aberrations – “It has been consistent, that’s the reality of it” – he is far too much of a glass-half-full man to become depressed about it when everything is still to play for.
“We have put ourselves in a great position with 11 games to go,” he said.
“There has been a focus on this part [defensive shortcomings] here for a while, but it’s part of my job to not get too down about it. We really have to focus now on the great parts of our game, and with 11 games to go it is about winning. We want to try and win every single game, and if we win 11 games by four goals to three I will be delighted.”