All of the criticisms that have been levelled at teams like Arsenal in the Premier League, like Barcelona abroad and what has been one of the catalysts of Borussia Dortmund’s hugely underwhelming season by their standards, can be aimed with equal measure at Liverpool.
In fact, all the positives that you regularly attribute to those teams are found in Brendan Rodgers’ team. An attack that can warrant the name as the quickest and most lethal in the Premier League this season; a forward who is so exceptionally good that many in England rate only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as better in European , and by extension, world football.
The problem is the defence. The problem is that all great teams find glory off the back of a more than solid back line, including a very good goalkeeper. Chelsea rode their luck to the Champions League final and won it against the odds because their defence massively compensated for the lack of a free-scoring star striker.
As good as Liverpool are this season – and they have fought against that old cliché that says the Premier League requires pace and power by predominantly offering the former in large helpings – their defence is prone to mistakes – three own goals by Martin Skrtel and countless blunders by Kolo Toure – and they are vulnerable.
Following the away loss to Hull back in December, Brendan Rodgers spoke of his squad not being good enough. No one would argue that, but the fact that they’re currently top speaks of the manager’s tactical excellence, as well as his man-management skills – and, of course, outside factors which have aided in their ascent.
Liverpool don’t have a problem showing up for big games, though that hasn’t always meant they’d leave with all three points. They’re a mixed bag this season, with wins against Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, and Everton; but a loss and a draw against the latter two away from home, in addition to back-to-back losses away to Manchester City and Chelsea, which, in fairness, could have been draws.
But that’s not where the worry lies. The worry is that games like Hull away are still possible. Not to the height of that collapse, but simply in dropping points where maximum points should, on paper, be gained.
It may not matter to some considering the wins, but Swansea and Sunderland at Anfield were not routine victories. Gus Poyet’s team troubled the home side and could have left with a result had it not been for a moment of brilliance from a set piece. As for Swansea, they showed just how vulnerable Liverpool’s defence can be.
There isn’t always an assurance that Liverpool’s big hitters, Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will find the net, and there is far from a certainty that the team will keep a clean sheet.
With hesitation in calling Anfield a fortress, it has once again become a very difficult place to go for big teams. But Chelsea are unbeaten against the top teams in the Premier League this season, home and away. They put forward one of the performances of the season away to Manchester City. It may not have been to everyone’s liking, but it was masterfully executed. At the same time, City’s attack is capable of dismantling teams. You certainly wouldn’t stick a wager on Liverpool keeping a clean sheet at the Etihad.
As Rodgers said, this isn’t the finished product from Liverpool. It’s difficult to sift through all the great or even good title winners and find one who wasn’t built on an excellent back four and keeper. Not to say that without question it will be Liverpool’s undoing, but an irresistible attack doesn’t count for everything in the race for silverware.