This last season has to go down as one of the most exciting but frustrating as a Liverpool fan. The phrase “so close and yet so far” comes to mind.
In the Premier league defence wins league titles, and this was our most critical issue this last season. In recent years the worst defensive team to win a title was Manchester United in 00/01 who had the 5th best defence that season. Liverpool finished 8th, and although we’ve conceded goals throughout the season it was in the last two weeks that we went from 6th to 8th.
There is a lot of debate amongst Liverpool fans on why we are flawed defensively. What are the reasons for it? Is it systematic, are we tactically naive, are our defenders not good enough, do the midfield players provide enough cover, are we mentally weak, or are we just inexperienced?
I think the system in itself is fine. Whether it’s a 4-4-2 diamond or 4-3-3 formation with split center backs and Gerrard as a deep midfielder and the fullbacks very wide and far up the pitch. This is absolutely fine for me. However I think we need to have the right players to make it work.
To be fair, it’s been working very well because 81 points from 37 games is better than any of us hoped for in August. To win the big prizes though it needs to work a little bit better and I believe the right players will do that.
We have good but not outstanding defenders. Our defenders need to be quicker and stronger in the tackle, none of them are strong in the 2 v 2 or 1 v 1 situations.
Lack of mental strength
No matter what our tactics are we tend to lose control of games and concede chances when we are put under pressure. Brendan mentioned it himself. Many of our players make bad decisions when put under pressure. Can you coach players out of having mental breakdowns?
You expect it from young, inexperienced players but Johnson, Skrtel, Agger and Kolo have 477 international caps between them. Surely such experienced players shouldn’t be so prone to error. Sakho has over 150 appearances for PSG and cost us £18m. You would expect the finished article but at 24 years of age and in a foreign league with only 19 appearances under his belt maybe he needs a bit of time and Premier League experience before we cast judgement.
It is not just the defenders that make mental errors. Gerrard has made more defensive errors than all of our defenders while Henderson has made as many.
Lack of leadership
Jamie Carragher spoke about a lack of leadership in the Liverpool defence. I must say I agree with him. But it is a worry when you have the captain of Denmark, captain of the Ivory Coast, captain of Slovakia and the former PSG captain in your back four but still there is no leadership.
I think with better defenders we’d have won the league. That might come across as over simplifying it but when I say better I mean better leadership, mental strength, pace, ability in 1v1 situations, decision making and less of a propensity to make errors.
So Ian Ayre and transfer committee, step forward. It’s not easy finding defenders of this calibre but it’s what the recruitment guys get paid good money to do. Brendan Rodgers took the side from 7th to challenging for the title, this despite a couple of ordinary transfer windows. It is time for the other members of the transfer committee to do their bit.
For me it’s pretty clear what we need to do to improve the team. Better full backs (please!!!), a central defensive leader, an attacking player who can play wide or at the apex of the diamond, a striker and cover for Henderson and Gerrard.