2013 started on a good note for Liverpool – a comprehensive 3-0 win at home against Sunderland and news of Daniel Sturridgeai??i??s transfer from Chelsea. Brendan Rodgers has been very vocal about bolstering his attacking options and plenty of newspaper columns have been dedicated to who Liverpool should try and bring in next to mount a push for the top 4.

While the scarcity of resources up front is there for all to see, Liverpool have actually found the net fairly regularly. The Reds have notched up an average of 1.62 goals this season and have failed to find the net on only 4 occasions. Much of the goal-scoring responsibility has been shouldered by Luis Suarez but the Uruguayan seems to be revelling in it. Liverpool have now found the net in each of the last 8 matches and The Reds currently sit 7th on the goal scoring charts. This figure is certain to improve with the addition of Sturridge and Borini returning from injury.

Deeper problems may lie elsewhere however. This season, Liverpool has conceded a relatively high 1.30 goals per game. If you consider the entire calendar year of 2012, Liverpool has conceded 1.31 goals per game and have managed to keep only 7 clean sheets in the year. Although it is still within the top 10 defences in the league it is below par for a team which has ambitions of finishing within the Champions League spots. Liverpool was consistently amongst the top 3 defences in the league and averaged well below a goal a game during Rafa Benitezai??i??s tenure. The team regularly kept over 40% clean sheets and was notoriously difficult to beat. Liverpoolai??i??s best defensive season in 2008/09 saw them finish 2nd in the table losing just 2 games in the process. Unfortunately, we can see a trend in the increase in number of goals conceded and a decrease in the percentage of clean sheets kept through the Ai??seasons.

Rodgers has seen his team fritter away leads on more than one occasion this season. Liverpool look vulnerable against quick counter-attacking teams and ones which play physical ‘Route 1’ football. Players have been guilty of being caught out of position and of committing individual defensive errors. The problem seems to be compounded when Liverpool travel. They have conceded 1.60 goals per game this season away from home and have only managed to keep just 2 clean sheets on the road this season. Teams are more likely to have a go at Liverpool on their home turf and RodgersAi??hasn’tAi??quite yet figured a way out to keep them at bay.

Success is built at the back they say. It thus comes as no surprise that Liverpoolai??i??s fall from Champions League grace coincides with its defensive frailties. Rodgers must find a way to stop the rot if Liverpool is to find a way back to the glory days. There are several issues which Rodgers must quickly look to resolve if Liverpool is to entertain hopes of a top 4 finish this season.

A lack of an alternative to the 4-3-3 system

Rodgersai??i?? system emphasises on fluidity and movement with the ball. The centre backs are spread out and the full backs play high up the pitch. Without the ball the team relies on pressing high up the pitch and wining the ball back as quickly as possible. However, the positioning of the midfield trio often leaves a gaping hole between the centre-backs and behind the defensive midfielder which opposition teams can easily exploit. Rodgers has tried to minimise this space by asking his centre-backs to play a high line but it also leaves themAi?? vulnerable against quick forwards who can run the channels and exploit the space behind. The system works well if teams play with just one man up front as the spare centre back can come across to cover. However, when teams play a staggered front two like Everton, West Ham and Stoke, Liverpoolai??i??s back line can often find itself dangerously exposed.

Rodgers had experimented with a 3-5-2 system in the second half against Everton at Goodison Park. The tactical switch worked and Liverpool was able to stifle Everton who were clearly on the upper hand at that stage. Liverpool nearly won the game at the end but for a disallowed goal. However, the manager chose to stick to his preferred 4-3-3 against physical teams such as West Ham and Stoke. Liverpoolai??i??s defence was run ragged by West Ham but they managed to scrape the win. Against Stoke however, theyAi??weren’tAi??as lucky.

Rodgers needs to come up with an alternative plan to counter the threat of these teams in the League. Whether that is by reverting to a 3-5-2 or by inverting the midfield triangle to include 2 defensive midfielders, he needs to show more flexibility in his game plans.

Getting cover for Lucas

The absence of Lucas Leiva through injury for much of 2012 seems to have exacerbated the defensive problems for Liverpool. Since the shaky start to his career at Anfield, the 25 year old has become a key player and is the only specialist defensive midfielder in the side. Joe Allen has been decent playing in a defensive role but he doesnai??i??t possess the same tackling ability and positioning sense as the Brazilian. Lucas is now back but is still yet to recapture his pre-injury form. Liverpool’s defensive record has been good in recent weeks (3 clean sheets in the last 4 matches) and Lucasai??i??s presence in the side would have a part to play in this improvement.

Liverpool’s Lynchpin

Lucas has had a positive influence on the attacking side of Liverpoolai??i??s game as well. Gerrard has been given a freer role and has been able to get into scoring positions more often in recent games. The stability provided by Lucas at the back has also freed Gerrard of some of his defensive responsibilities and the Liverpool captain has flourished in his role as being the chief creative force in the team.

Lucas’ importance in the side is evident and another injury to him would mean a critical blow for Liverpoolai??i??s Champions League hopes this season. An adequate cover for the Brazilian should be high on the priority list for Rodgers in this January transfer window. A cover for him would be just as vital to Liverpoolai??i??s hopes as a cover for Suarez.

Getting a new centre-back

Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger have been able to establish themselves as the first choice centre back pairing for Liverpool. The two complement each other well and have been able to strike up a good partnership. Skrtel is an aggressive ball winner and makes more tackles and headers while Agger is a ball playing centre back who relies more on intelligent reading of the opposition’s play. However, there is precious little depth for Liverpool in this department in case of injury or suspension.

Jamie Carragher is in his twilight years and his inclusion in the side does not allow Liverpool to play the high back line preferred by Rodgers. Sebastian Coates has been frozen out of the side for some inexplicable reason and Danny Wilson does not make the grade. Andre Wisdom has played regularly at centre back in the youth set-up but the injury to Enrique means that he is likely to be employed at right back.

A lack of competition for places could also result in a drop in the performance levels for Liverpoolai??i??s first choice centre-backs. Liverpoolai??i??s defence has already committed a few errors leading to goals this season and competition for places would keep this to a minimum.

While Rodgers may not opt to act in this transfer window, it is clearly an area that he will have to address in the summer. Agger has had a history of injuries and Carragher may choose to retire at the end of the season. Liverpool clearly lacks a quality back-up and their scouts will need to look for reinforcements in the area.

The transition phase for Liverpool has been a roller coaster ride so far. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of this side left fans wondering which one will actually turn up to play. In recent weeks, Rodgers has harped on consistency being the key to success for The Reds. Perhaps, some solidity at the back would help achieve that and only then can this team can truly implement its ideal of ai???death by footballai???.

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