Liverpool’s pre-season has so far been marked by one thing; a propensity to concede goals, and lots of them. What may have first begun as little more than a training exercise is now beginning to take on a more worrying aspect as the dawn of a new Premier League season looms less than two weeks away. Which brings my to the point – have the Liverpool hierarchy missed a trick in recruiting a new centre half this summer?
It’s clear that certain positions required priority with concerns to the club’s transfer policy going into the summer. A winger and a creative midfielder appeared to be right at the top of the pile and in Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam they appear to have purchased wisely. Jordan Henderson has arrived for a large fee based on his future potential and Brazilian goalkeeper Doni has come in to add competition to the ranks.
However, there have been no reinforcements in defence despite the club having little strength in depth and too man square pegs in round holes. A new left back is still required, despite the progress of Jack Robinson, return of Emilano Insua and good form of recognised right back Glen Johnson in that role towards the end of last season.
The position that has gone rather unnoticed in terms of recruitment has been at centre half with side crying out for some fresh blood.
Jamie Carragher is another year older this season and at 33 years of age, he cannot be factored into the club’s long-term planning too much. Not to mention the fact that the whole defence has to play a deeper line to compensate for the vice-captain’s famed lack of pace.
Martin Skrtel can either be exceptional or ridiculous in equal measure. His ability to attack the ball in the air is both a gift and a curse as it means he can either dominate his opposing number of frequently get caught out of position under a high ball. He remains the quickest centre half on option and when in form, he’s one of the best in the top flight, but he needs constant attention and only appears to play at his best when partnered with a calming, steadying influence such as Carragher.
Daniel Agger is a fans favourite. His ability to pick a pass and bring the ball out of defence often draws admiring glances from neutrals. I may be alone in thinking this, but I’ve never found Agger to be the best of defenders. He doesn’t thrive on it. He’s simply not a natural defender and while he may be pleasing on the eye to the puritan, he simply makes far too many mistakes to be a nailed on starter.
Danny Wilson and Sotirios Krygiakos are acceptable back-up options but nothing more. It would appear that on the surface the side are well stocked, but dig a little deeper and the options are somewhat threadbare.
Crucially, a lot still factors around the presence of Carragher. His ability to organise and co-ordinate the Liverpool back line is of paramount importance. It’s without him that I begin to question the options available.
Daniel Agger stated after the 3-3 draw with Valerenga, of which he scored 2 of them, that: “The amount of goals that we have conceded is not good enough. We need to show we can keep a clean sheet and we have got to defend better.” Pepe Reina echoed his sentiments by stating: “We have a lot of work ahead of us. We cannot afford to conceded so many goals. To let in three is not our identity.”
Fifteen goals in five pre-season games against the likes of Guandong, Malaysia XI, Hull, Galatasaray and Valerenga isn’t the best of pre-seasons, that much is certain. Perhaps too much has been made of the club’s defensive frailties so far – pre-season is often a time to gel new players and improve the squad’s base level of fitness, and while that may be happening, the lack of cohesion at the back is a cause for concern.
Good centre halves do not grow on trees, but with the club looking to shift towards a more attacking and attractive style of play, based on the evidence so far in pre-season, something appears to have been lost in terms of the overall balance of the side. Tougher tests await the club and while Dalglish is sure to have something up his sleeve, with plenty of time left in the transfer window, a move for a commanding centre back certainly makes sense both in the short and long-term. Gary Cahill is the latest name to be linked and he would certainly signal a step in the right direction.
To put it quite simply, the issue over the tightening up the side’s porous back line now has to be the club’s top priority for the remainder of the summer transfer window, otherwise a season marred by inconsistent results and defensive uncertainty awaits.
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