While scoring goals has been a worrying concern for Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool this season, the Reds have had very little trouble keeping them out.
Free-scoring Manchester City were the latest side unable to find a way past a determined Liverpool defence in the Carling Cup on Wednesday evening as the Reds moved one step closer to their first Wembley appearance since their cream coloured suit catastrophe in 1996.
The Red men repeatedly frustrated Roberto Mancini’s men throughout their 1-0 first-leg victory, becoming the first side since Birmingham in November 2010 to keep a clean at the Etihad Stadium with an archetypal, defensive away performance. Liverpool were so comfortable in the first-half that City did not manage a shot on target until the 43rd minute.
Dalglish’s side currently boast the second meanest defensive record in the Premier League having only conceded a measly 18 goals in 20 games this season; only two more than current league leaders City, marshalled superbly by their outstanding Belgian skipper Vincent Kompany.
Slovakian international Martin Skrtel and his slick sidekick Daniel Agger have been the lynchpins at the centre of the impressive back four having started the last 11 league games together, losing just two. While Skrtel has been a regular in the heart of the Merseysiders’ defence, starting every league game last term, Agger’s contribution to the thriving partnership has seen Kop legend Jamie Carragher settling for a place on the sidelines.
After picking up an injury in a Carling Cup tie at Stoke earlier in the season, Carragher has not started a Premier League game since October but has impressed when called upon in cup victories over Oldham and Chelsea. Liverpool’s No.23 turns 34 before the end of the month and the Bootle-born defender may struggle to win his place back as an automatic starter should Agger remain free of injury and in-form.
The £5.5 million summer purchase of left-back Jose Enrique was an acute piece of business by the club, with the Spaniard earning plaudits from critics and fans as one of the signings of the season so far. Enrique has slotted perfectly into Dalglish’s defence, finally solving the Reds’ eternal quest to find a capable Premier League left-back, with previous lacklustre incumbents including Djimi Traore, Andrea Dossena, Emiliano Insua and more recently Paul Konchesky.
England international Glen Johnson has also been in fine form this season, finally finding the perfect balance between his necessary defensive duties and natural attacking flair. Youngsters Martin Kelly and Jon Flanagan have also stepped into the fold on occasions and are benefiting from playing in a team full of confidence and self-belief. Pepe Reina, despite a couple of uncharacteristic errors against Fulham and Manchester City, also remains one of the league’s top three goalkeepers.
Skrtel believes the back room addition of former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke has also played a major part in the Reds’ improved defensive displays, saying: “We work a lot in training on defending with Steve and that has probably helped not only me but all the guys who play at the back.
“Since Kenny and Steve have come in the atmosphere changed around the team. Everything is much, much better now. If I feel the confidence from the manager that is important for me and maybe that is the reason.”
With one foot already in the final at Wembley, Dalglish is on the verge of delivering Liverpool’s first trophy since the FA Cup in 2006. City must score at Anfield to make it to the final at Wembley; something Liverpool’s exceptional back four have developed a habit of stopping teams from doing.
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