The ‘neutral’ would have loved it. A thrilling, end-to-end game with plenty of goals. Brendan Rodgers would have felt completely different about Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Swansea on the weekend. And what will be most troubling to him is that it’s a long-running theme of this season.
Liverpool have been outstanding going forward. Rodgers has found the right mix of pace, industry and finishing, with Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Coutinho able to contribute in the way of creativity.
But it’s at the back where Liverpool have been vulnerable, sometimes being caught out through the lack of a strong defensive presence in the midfield or a lack of quality in reserve when first-choice central-defensive options are unavailable.
This is what Rodgers has to work with until the summer. The club heavily pursued Yevhen Konoplyanka during the January window, going as far as to sending a representative to Ukraine to wrap up the deal. But the Ukrainian international is a wide player, one who would have made Liverpool’s already strong front line even more lethal, but would have offered very little defensively.
The obvious need for Liverpool was a defensive midfielder. Lucas Leiva was out through injury in January, and yet even with the Brazilian, the team were in need of a player who could effectively break up opposition play and protect the back four.
So what Liverpool have now is a game plan in which they will attempt to score more than the opponent, which they have done in many Premier League games, including those against teams currently in the top six.
What is less certain is time, in that this game plan may eventually run its course before the end of the season. It’s a risky strategy that relies on the fitness and availability of Rodgers’ first-choice attackers: Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. It’s also one that assumes, or at least hopes, that Liverpool’s attack will continue to produce goals on a consistent basis over the next few months. Suarez may be doing a lot for the team, but he hasn’t scored in five games. Sturridge, scorer of two of Liverpool’s goals on the weekend, has already seen time off through injury, and backup forwards are simply not good enough.
Rodgers was clearly instructed his side to press the opposition in order to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible. They did so expertly in the win against Arsenal at Anfield. But a better opposition than Arsenal were that day would have been able to expose Liverpool’s clear weakness, that being the gap between defence and midfield through the lack of a defensive midfielder.
It’s a problem that has led to Liverpool’s inability to hold onto winning positions. It’s certainly the area that needs immediate address in the summer window.