Admittedly this has been written in the aftermath to an atrocious performance from the Redmen away at West Ham United, however that’s down more to my laziness than anything I saw during the game.
The fact is, these problems have been there for a long time.
A quick disclaimer before we start, I am a huge fan of Brendan Rodgers, I have written numerous articles about him and firmly believe he is the man to make us great once again. That does not mean he is above criticism however.
I am also a huge fan of Steven Gerrard, he is the greatest Liverpool player I have ever seen.
I feel the need to put this in as I am going to discuss both at length in this article. The reason is simple, Brendan’s blind spot over Steven Gerrard is part of the problem.
Plenty has been written and spoken about our 41 year old manager during his first 100 or so games as Liverpool boss and the majority of it has been positive. We’re just recovering from our best season in the Barclays Premier League since 2008/9 and we are embarking on our first UEFA Champions League campaign since 2009/10.
Things are on the up, or they were.
You see, Brendan has a problem. Well, more than one if we’re being honest and they are in danger of overtaking all the good he has done so far.
You may look at this season in isolation and suggest that we are trying to bed too many players in, or that certain defenders are too keen to impress and that’s why they are making mistakes.
The problem with that assertion is that neither of those statements were true last season and last season we conceded 50 league goals. That was more than Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Southampton and any other side in the top 5.
The fact is Brendan’s weaknesses start with the back four and so this is where we shall begin.
At the start of last season it was clear that Martin Skrtel was heading out of the door. Kolo Toure was brought in and Daniel Agger was handed the vice-captaincy after Jamie Carragher’s retirement. A sure sign that the Dane was going to be Rodgers’ first choice central defender.
Most of the summer months were spent searching for a dominate right sided centre-back to play alongside Agger, with Papadapolous from Schalke muted as the likely candidate. That move didn’t pan out due to a serious knee injury suffered by the Greek central defender so the search continued.
There were strong links to Ashley Williams, the Wales and Swansea central defender who had previously worked with Rodgers at Swansea. However, that move was vetoed by the transfer committee. Perhaps there should have been a bit more vetoing this summer as well.
As the search went on Liverpool started the season with two clean sheets and looked reasonably solid. It appeared that the back 4 of Johnson, Toure, Agger and Enrique would be the first choice. Admittedly there wasn’t much in reserve but that was true in plenty of areas last season.
Injury meant that Martin Skrtel got a reprieve and returned for the 1-0 win over Manchester United and he played okay. Nothing fancy but the team kept another clean sheet and picked up 3 more vital points.
I know the saying goes you never change a winning side but for me, Skrtel did nothing in that game to show he should become Liverpool’s number 1 central defender. However, that is what he became. Out of the side over the course of the season went Daniel Agger, Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho. The one constant was Martin Skrtel.
That’s some turn around from one 90 minute performance.
Of course we cannot just blame Skrtel for the defensive issues last season and this. There’s the right-back position and Glen Johnson. Glen’s been out of form now for 2 years and at times it is painful to watch him. Has Rodgers done anything about this?
No he has not.
Javier Manquillo as well as he may have done in his first few appearances is not yet a replacement for Glen Johnson. He is a young Spanish full-back who the club have brought in on loan for 2 years in the hope that we can transform him into the next big thing. It’s asking a huge amount of the youngster. He was left badly exposed on Saturday evening and only lasted 20 minutes.
It would be too simplistic to just point the finger at the back 4 however, because another of Brendan’s blind spots continues as we move further forward.
Namely the double pivot.
He loves it.
It’s peculiar because at the start of his reign it was all about the 3 man midfield and how you needed 2 runners ahead of a deep lying player. That hasn’t panned out really unless the side is set up in the diamond formation with Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen ahead of Steven Gerrard. Take Allen out of the side like we have seen against Southampton, Aston Villa, Ludogrets and West Ham and we will either see Rodgers pair Gerrard with Lucas Leiva or with Jordan Henderson. It just does not work.
Again you can argue that point by saying we won 2 of those 4 games but, if you’re honest with yourself you will accept that we were extremely lucky in both.
Whilst we are on the subject of the midfield this brings me onto the biggest of Brendan’s blind spots: Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is causing us more problems than solutions right now. It’s painful to admit it but it is true. Again, the sooner Rodgers realises this the better.
He simply cannot offer the back four any protection.
If you list what he is in the side for, you would get a fair way down before you actually get to defensive duties. That’s just wrong. He is supposed to be the shield that protects the defence. He is supposed to be the man that cuts out any attempted counter attack against us.
He does none of that.
Yes, he can spray those 40-50 yard passes and yes, he can score a penalty when the pressure is on but is that enough to justify his position in the side as the deepest lying midfield player? I honestly can’t say it is.
West Ham away was his third game in 8 days and it showed. He struggled badly to get across the ground from the very first minute. Add to that his set piece delivery was poor and it was surprising that he lasted the full 90 minutes.
Perhaps the West Ham game was the perfect storm, perhaps things will improve and we can get back to playing like the side we were last season. That wouldn’t be enough for me however.
I want to see us improve and build on last season. Yes the side did extremely well and exceeded all our expectations but it needed serious work over the summer.
It needed a commanding centre-back, ideally a right sided one who could partner Mamadou Sakho in there. After all, he was the best centre-back we could find last Summer, better than a certain Dejan Lovren who was also available for transfer from a Ligue 1 side.
It also needed a specialist defensive midfield player. A player in the mould of Javier Mascherano or Victor Wanyama. They spoil and break up attacks first, they both have a hunger about them to win the ball that would compliment the likes of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen.
Ultimately the defence needed better protection last season and it’s crying out for it this. Steven Gerrard wasn’t the answer last season and he certainly isn’t this.
The side needed to evolve even before we lost Luis Suarez.
It would be easy to dismiss this all as sour grapes after a poor week in the life of Liverpool Football Club. The trouble is, these issues have been there longer than a week.
Of course Rodgers will be supported and given every chance to rectify the problems that we face currently and of course it would be crazy to suggest that I or probably any of you reading this knows more than the Liverpool boss but, there are issues with how we defend both individually and collectively. Right now, we look rudderless and devoid of ideas on how to keep clean sheets.
Rodgers needs to find the answers to the questions he is being poised right now, he needs to see past his blind spots otherwise they could haunt him forever.