When Brendan Rodgers submitted his 180-page dossier over to FSG and John Henry in the summer of 2012, the three main action items helped envision the birth of a new Liverpool but with an aura of the team from 80ai??i??s. Just to recap, these are the priorities laid out by Rodgers in his vision for taking Liverpool back to the banks of greatness:

  1. Trophies
  2. Creative and attacking football
  3. Promoting youth as much as possible
Liverpool

Missing a point there, Brendan?

While Rodgersai??i?? Plan-Of-Action looks promising from the aforementioned, a closer look will ebb the thought of a strong line of defense as a priority. It is not evident from any of the three avenues that Liverpoolai??i??s defense occupied a good amount of real estate in that 180-page dossier. This does not transcend as blame towards Rodgers, especially considering the fact that barring the quest for trophies, he has done a really good job with the other two items on that list in his first season as Liverpool manager. It simply re-emphasizes the need for on-par quality when it comes to defense as well.

To help understand the need for a strong defensive presence in the squad, letai??i??s take the example of a team that most closely relates to the way Liverpool are trying to play currently ai??i?? Barcelona. Both of them come really close when you consider how they have performed in their individual leagues this year. Both have had high counts of possession in the opposition third, both score high on number of passes in the opposition box and both teams are rated up there when it comes to number of goals scored. But they both face a similar problem ai??i?? a comparatively weaker defense.

There is a small gap in role clarity when Rodgersai??i?? style of football comes to the fore. The background to creative and attacking football (point 2) is possession; and Liverpool have averaged 57% possession so far this season. Most of this action happens in the middle and attacking thirds due to short passing, leaving possession in the defensive third to a mere 27%. While one can agree with the involvement of the back-line (including the keeper) within possession football, it does seem like Liverpool defenders have slightly turned their heads away from their incumbent duties while being involved in the team’s efforts to dominate the game.

Liverpool have averaged 1.9 goals per game so far this campaign but they also have a high conceding rate of 1.29 per game. With 40 goals conceded in 31 games, the grass seems to be greener much ahead on the pitch rather than on Reinaai??i??s zone. This is a worrying sign for Liverpool because it means the only arm of the club that is working on moving ahead is the attack. If such a continuation is on the cards, then there is a possibility that there is a widening void within the team build. Imagine a team which is striving to reach as high as possible on the attacking front while itai??i??s defense is still showing minimal or no sign of stepping up to the plate. There is clearly a lot of homework for such a setup.

To get a little more specific on Liverpoolai??i??s defensive problems, statistics show that Liverpool concede more goals in the second half than the first. Now this could be the result of two things ai??i?? the defense is unable to keep up the momentum built by the rest of the squad in the second half (mainly because possession football is a lot riskier starting from the back if not perfected) or, the backline tries to involve itself further in attack in the next 45 minutes, cutting off the focus supply that is needed for its defensive duties. If one recollects the home game against Arsenal, the Gunnersai??i?? first goal came off a counter with Cazorla breaking through Glen Johnsonai??i??s territory while the defender was still lingering around midfield. Agger and Skrtel werenai??i??t in place for a blockage and eventually Podolski entered the frame and finished things off.

While there is a certain degree of understanding when you speak of possession starting from the position of a keeper who acts as a sweeper in such situations, such a philosophy is best witnessed when the defensive back-line first gets itai??i??s basics right. This is all the more important when the second-half starts because if Liverpool are in a situation where they need to draw first blood or they need to regain their lead in a game, then the focus for all players upwards of midfield will be to drive men forward in attack. In such a situation, the defense needs to sit back and ensure that while the 5-6 players are carrying the game forward, they need to nullify any possibility of the opposition trying to do the same. After all, there is no reason not to believe that the opponents will walk out with the same mindset. But by maintaining the central pairing as well as the full-backs in the passing circle, the mentality suffers a bit of imbalance. After all, knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to.

Another one of Liverpoolai??i??s problems defensively this season has been conceding from set pieces. Hereai??i??s the irony ai??i?? the Reds are going from strength to strength in creative, attacking and possession football. The tiki-taka philosophy has shown that as soon as a team loses possession, players immediately work in clusters to steal the ball back by pressing hard. In Liverpoolai??i??s case, they average 10.29 fouls per game and 7.09 fouls per card. Considering they almost always end up having a higher share of possession at the end of a game, this means that the times when they lose possession, there is not enough patience to win the ball back which shows since 7.09 is a high number for this kind of philosophy. Any team which even partially shares a mentality of pressing to regain the ball can easily take advantage of this.

Once the opposition wins possession anywhere within the attacking third, the Liverpool defense has struggled to cohesively keep the attacker at bay. Defenders falling out of place or unable to track an incoming run for a header have been common scenarios in Liverpoolai??i??s season. By the looks of it, Rodgers is still undecided on whether he needs to follow zonal or man-to-man marking with the teams he puts out on the pitch. Liverpool donai??i??t rate high on the physical clout scale, which means man-to-man marking is difficult to implement. On the other hand, zonal marking is something that is perfected through consistent, good performances, which has not been Liverpoolai??i??s forte.

At the end of it all, the catacombs to Liverpoolai??i??s tactically unimpressive defending is the bare career crossroads that its defenders are at. Martin Skrtel is increasingly looking like a player who has fallen down the ladder, although injuries do play an attribute to some extent in his case. Rumours of him leaving Anfield are slowly beginning to pick up and if they hold even an iota of veracity to them, then he will probably be the first player to be sold in summer. Sebastian Coates is another signing who has failed to challenge the Danish-Slovakian-English trio this season after arriving with a high reputation. Given his growing frustration, it is starting to look like one Uruguayan will be sold once the transfer window opens.

Liverpool

Liverpool must work hard for his replacement

In addition, club legend Jamie Carragher has just seven games left to his Liverpool career and has no doubt given Rodgers a headache as Liverpool look to finish as high on the table as possible come end of the season. The Merseyside outfit isnai??i??t really left with many options after Skrtel, Coates and Carragher, to slot in seamlessly with Daniel Agger. Martin Kelly will only return during pre-season but will have to work hard to displace Glen Johnson from right-back. And finally, Jose Enrique and Pepe Reina have both been subjects of transfer speculation and it remains to be seen if they will indeed detach from Rodgersai??i?? plans for the next campaign albeit going by recent performances, this seems unlikely.

Clearly the leaks in the Liverpool squad are at the back and defense is the first area Rodgers should ideally address in the summer. Picking the right fit for the Premier League is not an easy task because you are handing the new signing responsibility of preventing the opposition from taking a step ahead in the game. It is going to be a difficult summer for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers, but once they get the right personnel in, it would be safe to say that the squad is well staffed to vie for the competition that has seen their absence for a long time now. Not to forget, to also cement their place as title contenders once again.

Stats Courtesy Whoscored.com and PremierLeague.com

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