The Reds’ Achilles heel: The Defensive woes of Liverpool this Premier League season

Oh Captain My Captain, What have you done My Captain?

(The resolution of some of the pictures is real bad. Please click on the picture to get better resolution. Our freak doesn’t have complete control over that aspect of our work. Yet.)

Football is funny. One week a team looks like champions elect and the next, they go from champions elect to outsiders in the title race. Yeah, you got it right, I’m indeed talking about Liverpool. Chelsea’s smash and grab heist at the Anfield have left the Reds reeling and took away their destiny from their own hands and it all depends on Manchester City now. Chelsea have taken a lot of stick for giving the Reds’ title aspirations nearly a kiss of death and the kiss was not a romantic one; it was the ugliest people say. Yes Chelsea played two banks of four (two buses for the newbies), played deep, defended for their lives, wasted time etc. etc. However, are Chelsea the only ones responsible for the situation that the Reds find themselves in? Far from it. Let’s take some time and analyse the defensive performances of the Reds or rather the lack of it this season.

Liverpool’s attack has been blisteringly hot this season, beyond any doubt in the league. They have scored a staggering 96 goals and have a decent chance of breaking Chelsea’s 103 goal record set in 2009-10 season. But the attack department have not got the backing that would have wrapped the PL trophy in red ribbons by now from their colleagues in defence. Let’s put things in perspective here first: Liverpool have conceded 46 goals in 36 games, averaging above 1 goal per game. City have conceded 37 in 36. Chelsea have conceded 26. Arsenal have conceded 41 for all their thrashings against the top 5. Everton have conceded 39. Heck, even United in one of their worst seasons have conceded only 41. Only Spurs in the top 7 have conceded more than Liverpool. Even Crystal Palace and Hull City have conceded fewer goals. That’s not the defence of a title winning team, considering the fact the teams with the defensive record have won the league 90% of the time(though this season maybe one of those 10% seasons). So what are the factors behind this shambolic defensive performance from the Reds this season? They can be put down to three crucial factors:

  • Tactical Errors
  • Individual Errors
  • Incompetent Pivots
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Static and lazy: Liverpool’s defence this season has been very static and lazy most of the times. As the ball comes in, no one is (the black and red circles) marking Demba Ba (blue circle) and while he missed the ball by a whisker, this run shouldn’t have been allowed at all.

Also, Liverpool have been dismal defending set pieces. They’ve conceded about 35% of the goals from dead ball situations.

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Bony (black circle) is left free and unmarked by Henderson as well as Agger (red circles) as the set piece is delivered, and Bony scores through a deflection of Skrtel.

Tactical Errors:

We see that Rodger’s has largely played a 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1 this season, though he has occasionally employed 4-3-3 or a 4-1-2-3. Even when they started off with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 Liverpool have this ugly tendency to revert to a 3-5-2 often with Johnson and Flanagan playing as wingers and poor old Gerrard acting as a kind of half back between the two centre backs:

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Gerrard (thinner circle) has been playing somewhat like a half-back, dropping in between the two centre backs (thicker circles).

This effectively led to Chelsea’s first goal last week as Gerrard slipped and gave the ball away to Ba. Even before the slip, the writing was there on the wall. This is one of the biggest tactical blunders that Rodgers has committed this season. The fact that Gerrard has committed 5 individual errors this season bears further testament to this. Though his distribution from the deep has been exceptional, Gerrard isn’t particularly known for his ability to retain the ball under pressure or the positioning of a defensive midfielder (the Ba goal being an exception) and Swansea and Villa had a field day for Swansea when they pressurized Gerrard. Flanagan should never even be an attacking fullback even if he’s put in some decent shifts this season. Johnson, one of the more consistent players in the past few years, has become not so dependable now. Not just Gerrard or Flanagan or Johnson, the high number of individual errors in the Liverpool squad point out clearly that the players are just not the right personnel for carrying out the job that Rodgers wants them to carry out. So to a certain extent, the blame can be laid on Rodgers for not adapting tactics that are best for the personnel at his disposal. Now I’m not taking anything away from Rodgers here, he’s done a terrific job rebuilding the Reds. But a smart manager either builds on the personnel he has or if he’s too stubborn, then he at least acquires the suitable personnel. Rodgers for the defensive aspect of his current team, hasn’t done this.

Individual Errors:

Liverpool squad combined have committed an astonishing 40 individual errors with Mignolet leading the way with 7,only 2 less than John Ruddy, the league leader(So much for him wanting to replace Courtois for Belgium), Gerrard with 5 and Henderson with 4(worth noting the pivot players errors). City have committed 19, Chelsea 10, Arsenal 34 and Palace have 10. Yep, that’s right!! Palace have committed less errors than Liverpool. That’s not something that Champions of England are expected to do. Some of these have been very high profile ones and one such error is below. Of the 40 individual errors, 18 have directly resulted in goals. That means 45% of Liverpool’s individual error have been costly to them, a ratio we’ve only seen from the Gunners among the big teams in recent seasons.

Seconds to Disaster: The famous Gerrard slip about to happen.

Seconds to Disaster: The famous Gerrard slip about to happen.

Below is something Skrtel has being doing all season. Skrtel is actually a very good defender but he’s lucky to have gotten away with all the shoving and pulling he has done instead of trying to mark his intended targets. This is a from the recent Manchester City game.

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Skrtel takes up the task of marking Kompany

Skrtel head-butts Kompany’s shoulder instead of going for the ball even if he’s pulling his shirt. Poor positioning i.e. on the back side Kompany has done Skrtel in in this case

Skrtel head-butts Kompany’s shoulder instead of going for the ball even if he’s pulling his shirt. Poor positioning i.e. on the back side Kompany has done Skrtel in in this case

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Incompetent Pivots:

Rodgers has tried various combinations in the midfield pivot or holding players with Coutinho, Gerrard, Henderson, Allen, Lucas all playing in the pivot sometime or the other, albeit with no success. This is better explained by analysing the below scenarios:

Scenario 1: City 2-1 Liverpool (Negredo)

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The image says it all. Lack of support from the three midfielders: Allen, Lucas and Henderson (encircled) has done in Sakho and Skrtel as they are in two minds whether to go for the ball or back off. Jesus Navas released the ball indicated by the blue arrow to Negredo who had no one to stop him as he scored (though Mignolet could’ve done better).

Scenario 2: Liverpool 0-2 Villa (Benteke)

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Once again the holding midfielders Henderson (encircled and near the edge of the box) and Gerrard (not even in the frame!) are caught out of position as Johnson and Mignolet make a mess of a relatively easy cross from the right, allowing Benteke to seize the opportunity to score. Though Johnson and Mignolet are at fault here, there should be at least one of Gerrard or Henderson offering back up in the box. And anyone else thinks Johnson this season has been highly inconsistent? Because I do. He’s at fault for many of the goals the Reds have conceded this season

Scenario 3: Swansea 2-2 Liverpool (Michu)

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As Bony comes short to receive a pass, Sakho (encircled in thinner oval) is dragged along, creating a path for Shelvey to make a run without any obstruction. It’s also worth noting that the space in first place was created due to poor positioning of Gerrard and Lucas (encircled with thick ovals). As Shelvey made the run, neither Gerrard nor Lucas tracked that run and Shelvey ran into the space to lay on a simple pass to Michu as Skrtel attempted to tackle him and Michu scored with a simple finish.

The lack of support from the pivot has easily lead to at least 24 goals.

So to sum it up, if Liverpool want the Premier League trophy to be wrapped in red colour (no pun intended even if the closest United come to a trophy this season) ever, they need to work on the issues that are going to be their downfall and hope they don’t falter in the final two games.