Since Brendan Rodgers has been Liverpool manager he has constantly talked about getting more quality into the side, getting more goals into the side and having the ability to bring on more game changers if the need arises. What he hasn’t talked much about at all is strengthening the defence. He hasn’t said how much he values a clean sheet and about how those clean sheets in turn take the pressure off the forward players as he only need to score once to win the game.
However, this summer’s transfer window has shown that Rodgers may well have been having us all on. It looks like he has prioritised clean sheets over exciting high scoring wins. He seems to have prioritised results over pretty football.
We know have the ability to field two back four’s that would be comfortable in any Barclays Premier League match. Our first choice back four in my opinion is Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique. That leaves us with the rejuvenated Martin Skrtel, the £18million pound man Mamadou Sakho, the returning Martin Kelly and the newly acquired Aly Cissokho vying for places in the first 11 or for places on the bench.
That eight also does not include England’s U21 captain Andrew Wisdom and new boy Tiagi Ilori, both who can play Centre back and Right back if required.
Add to that a new goalkeeper in Simon Mignolet and Rodgers spent most of his transfer kitty strengthening an area that may not be fashionable or get many back page headlines but it certainly gets you points and what do points mean?? Thats right, prizes and ultimately the prize we want is Champions League Football once more.
At the moment that strength in depth in the defensive area is a god send. We are currently short of Aly Cissokho, who picked up an ankle injury in the League Cup tie at home to Notts County, Glen Johnson also has an ankle injury, Kolo Toure who is making a return from an injury picked up in the same game as Aly Cissokho and Martin Kelly is also working his way back to full fitness.
For Monday nights game against Swansea, a freak injury in the gym cost Daniel Agger his place but in stepped £18million pounds worth of solid French Centre back, Mamadou Sakho. I thought Sakho played well, it was his first game for us, he looked comfortable on the ball and very good in the air.
He did however dive in rashly a few times and being very critical you could say the 2nd goal was as much down to him being dragged out of position as it was the lack of midfield runner tracking Jonjo Shelvey. However, comparisons with Djimi Traore are at this point very harsh.
It’s been a long time since Liverpool have had such options in any position really, perhaps we could go back to Rafa’s period in charge when we had Carragher, Skrtel, Agger and Hyypia as Centre backs or even Alonso, Mascherano, Sissokho and Lucas as Central Midfielders to call upon.
Even though our season will most likely be no more than 44 games long that strength in depth is vital. Players will come in and out of form and as we have seen players pick up injuries and usually it’s not just 1 at a time. Personally I am not one for changing central defensive pairings unless it’s down to an injury or a dramatic loss of form so Sakho could find his first team opportunities limited for a while unless Rodgers plays him alongside Daniel Agger. I’m not a fan of two left footed defenders playing together but there are instances when it has worked and given time then perhaps that will be Rodgers’ first choice pairing.
There is another way to fit them both in, we could move to a 3-5-2 formation once everyone is fit and the magician Luis Suarez returns. A back three of Toure, Agger and Sakho with Cissokho and Johnson as wing backs certainly would give us good balance both in defence and attack. We could also consider playing Henderson as a right wing back rather than Johnson, that would give us the option of being flexible with the tactics during the game and moving to a flat back 4 and leaving Henderson to supplement the midfield area. Rodgers likes the formation, he played it as Swansea on numerous occasions and playing out from the back is certainly easier with a back 3.
Only time will tell of course. What these signing have also done is guarantee Liverpool’s back four is in good hands for at least the next 5-7 years dependant on form. Sakho is 23, Ilori is 20, Kelly and Wisdom are 23 and 20 respectively. If they all carry on developing as they have so far then Liverpool fans have lots of clean sheets to look forward to in the future.
I do have some cause for concern though and that is the way we seem to either keep clean sheets or let in at least 2 goals a game. We have done that already twice this season, at home to Notts County in the League Cup and away at Swansea on Monday evening. You may say I am nit-picking but if you look at the games we conceded in last season you will see the trend continuing. In 15 of the games we conceded in last season the opposition scored twice or more. That sort of statistic is worrying, it puts added pressure on the forward players, it also show’s that conceding can cause chaos within the team and that defending becomes difficult for the team in general.
We can improve on that of course, we have a better goalkeeper and the team have been drilled very well in pre-season. We don’t look as flimsy when defending crosses and set pieces. We are dropping deeper when in front in games so we are not so wide open on the counter attack. That could change if we find ourselves chasing a match, only time will tell.
Right now though Rodgers and his new defence can take great confidence from the start we have had and all Liverpool fan’s should be counting on more clean sheets as the season unfolds.