TheHardTackle looks at Liverpool‘s mean and solid defence, which has not conceded in the Premier League so far this season.
Liverpool made the best possible start to the 2013-14 Premier League campaign with three impressive albeit dogged 1-0 wins. Few would have envisaged the fact that they would be sitting top of the table after three games. Looking at the manner in which Brendan Rodgers has got in new additions, one can get a feeling that Liverpool are strong contenders for the top 4 this season. They may not have improved the attacking front like Tottenham (Soldado, Lamela, Eriksen) or Arsenal (Ozil), but they have certainly boosted their reserve of defenders.
New Defensive Approach
Liverpool have brought in Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho, Tiago Ilori, and Aly Cissokho as their defensive signings this transfer window. That brings the quota of centre halves to five (leaving out the injured Coates and Wisdom who is a natural centre-half currently deployed as a full back). Strong performances by the Agger-Toure partnership against Stoke City and Aston Villa and the Agger-Skrtel partnership against Manchester United has surely given Brendan Rodgers a selection headache, which is good to have. New faces tend to bring in more competition and one won’t be surprised to see Liverpool employ different tactics and different combination of centre-halves this season.
Rodgers has modeled Liverpool`s style on tiki-taka football. However, that may not be the case this season, judging by the three games in the premier league. Liverpool were happy to sit back in the games against Aston Villa and Manchester United after taking the lead, and played on the counter-attack. They managed to soak up the pressure wonderfully well, and this can be attributed to the work rate of each and every outfield player. (Sturridge was seen providing cover to Johnson in the right wing and Aspas on the other side).What was most impressive was the calm and composure shown by the centre-halves as they formed the fulcrum of the defensive line. Agger, Toure, Skrtel`s solid presence at the back and the excellent Mignolet enabled Liverpool to get a clean sheet.
Centre Half Tactics
The most important part of Brendan Rodgers` system is the role of the libero. The libero is very vital in helping out the midfield and building from the back. The player acting as the libero is expected to play a much larger role in ‘keep-ball’. He is supposed to buffer the pressure cropping up in midfield and make himself ever-present to receive the ball. Daniel Agger fits the bill perfectly as he is a ball playing centre half. The other centre half`s role is to complement him, a no nonsense powerful centre half. Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel are more ideal for this role, as we saw against Villa and United. The new signings Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori are both comfortable with the ball at their feet, which enables them to play the role of the libero. It is hard to see where they will fit in, especially with the solid performances of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.
One cannot see Brendan Rodgers playing two left footed centre-halves or two right footed centre-halves with the rich resources at this disposal. Yes, people would argue if right footed pairings can work well, why not left footed centre half pairings? The answer to that is most left-footed centre-halves are deployed on the left side of defense and they are not very comfortable in switching positions unless it is a tactical switch during the game to stop players from cutting inside. Playing two left-footed centre-halves is almost unheard of these days and since most of the attackers are pre-dominantly right footed, they can easily throw the left-footed centre halves off balance if the striker fakes movement towards the defenders strong side (left), but cuts the other way (right). Danny Graham of Hull City did the exact same thing and gave a torrid time to City`s two left footed centre half pairing in Joleon Lescott and Matija Nastasic last weekend. Bottom line is playing two left footed centre-halves is a big gamble and usually doesn’t pay off unless both of your centre-halves are ambidextrous or defenders of the John Terry mould who like to play on their weak side.
Spoilt for Choices
So, Brendan Rodgers might set his formation and centre back pairing based on the opposition. If it is a tough away game at Chelsea or Manchester United, Rodgers could opt for a 3-5-2 formation with Sakho, Agger and Skrtel/Toure/Ilori playing on the left, central and right centre half positions respectively with the full backs in Enrique and Johnson providing width, thus enabling more possession and control of the ball in midfield. If Liverpool are up against any other opposition at home, Rodgers might go in with the usual 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or the 4-3-3 formation depending on the situation with Agger/ Sakho and Skrtel/ Toure as his centre-halves depending on form and fitness.
Ilori is known to be very versatile and quick across the turf and can be deployed at right full back or right centre-half to thwart pacy forwards like Agbonlahor or Hazard, especially during a one on one situation. Another option for Rodgers is to use Ilori as a cover to Lucas, as Ilori is very much familiar with the concept of playing the holding midfielder role in his days as a Sporting Lisbon player. Sakho, another powerful and quick centre-half, won’t be warming the bench too long and he`ll be thrust into the starting eleven pretty soon. He can also play at left-full back and this is an added advantage to Liverpool as he is very strong in the air.
Glen Johnson is currently sidelined with injury and one won’t be surprised if Ilori makes his debut against Swansea at right full back. Brendan Rodgers might be hoping his defenders don’t pick up any injuries in the international games and he will want to have a full quota of defenders available to him against Swansea. If I were the gaffer, I`d pick Agger and Toure as my first choice centre-halves to deal with the likes of Michu and Bony, and hopefully break the voodoo of disappointing Monday nights for Liverpool.