During this summer’s pre-season period, Liverpool’s defensive frailties have come to the fore. Without being disrespectful, conceding three goals per match, against the likes of Guangdong, Hull City, a Malaysian Eleven and Valerenga hardly inspired confidence, and whilst these have to be taken in the context of ‘fitness building’ and ‘team bonding’ matches, they still drew a slight cause for concern.
I am far from jumping on any bandwagon here, in panicking over Liverpool’s friendly defeats, which so many seem keen to do. As I say, these games have to be taken into context. However, I had my concerns – as did many other Liverpool fans – prior to this summer’s off-season, and thought it near essential for the club, needing to bring in defensive signings.
Many have been surprised by the well documented amount of central-midfielders the club has pursued (and signed), with most thinking that wide-men, attack-minded players, and possibly a striker, should be the priority. Most overlooked however, was the defence – until the majority of the pre-season games had passed.
It has been no secret that Liverpool have been without an established left-back since John-Arne Riise left in 2008. Roy Hodgson’s attempt to remedy that particular situation is best left alone. However the vast improvements under Kenny Dalglish’s return saw many people forgetting the actual need – with Glen Johnson performing steadily on the opposite side of the pitch he is used to, and the rise of young Jack Robinson who gave performances which belied his youth. Robinson still needs to develop at a steady pace however, so the need for an experienced left-back is essential – no more square pegs in round holes, as Johnson was. In fairness, the club has been strongly linked with Newcastle Twitter man Jose Enrique, who may well become Liverpool’s new number 3 – but it is not just left-back that needs addressing.
On the face of it, it may seem ridiculous to suggest Liverpool are in dire need of another centre-back. I reiterate, this is an observation noted long before the pre-season results. In fact, it was probably noted around the time Sami Hyypia had moved on, Daniel Agger had suffered the 873rd injury of his Liverpool career, whilst Martin Skrtel was desperately trying to play catch-up to his Danish colleague’s injury record, with total time spent on the treatment table. I maybe being a little dramatic but the fact remains – Liverpool have two centre-backs who are severely injury-prone.
Jamie Carragher’s commitment to the cause cannot be called into question. However, he isn’t getting any younger, and he too is prone to some long-term injuries – albeit mostly coming about from a number of comedic ways. Try as he might, he’s not the same player of 4-seasons ago. This leaves the ‘new’ Carragher – Martin Kelly. Whilst a youngster still learning his trade (and best position, be it centre-back or fullback), he too is no stranger to the treatment table. I’ll leave the big Greek Kyrgiakos out of the equation for a number of comical reasons.
What remains a mystery is very early on in the transfer window, Liverpool were thought to be extremely close to signing Phil Jones, before he chose to head further down the M62. However, since missing out on the young centre-back, no real interest has been shown in pursuing other defensive targets. Gary Cahill and Ryan Shawcross have been (very) loosely linked at times, but it appears no real endeavour has been made to sign a dominant centre-back since the Jones incident. This may be smart play by the Liverpool management; after all revealing targets only increases their value and difficulties in signing them. But with the start of the new season only one week away, one hoped the issue would have been resolved in preparation for the big kick-off. If Jones was a serious target, it was a serious mistake not to have a back-up option.
Liverpool, particularly under Rafael Bentiz’s stewardship, were especially hard to score against. This was thanks to the Spaniards unrelenting obsession with controlling his players and defining structure. However, it came at the cost of mostly negative play and a limited attacking philosophy. Once Benitez left, the defensive stability which he had installed fell apart and Liverpool have been less than solid since.
Kenny Dalglish will be looking for that perfect balance; a return to the solid foundations at the back, coupled with a freedom of attacking football not seen since the days of the Dalglish MK 1 team of the late 80’s. They have rebuilt the attacking half – they now need to invest in defence.
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