Liverpool have been absolutely outstanding this season, of that there can be no doubt. All one has to do is compare this season’s league table to that of last season and the facts speak for themselves. With only one game left of the season, kicking off at three this afternoon, Liverpool have managed nine more victories than the previous year. They have scored 28 more goals, and counting, they boast 20 more points than they achieved last campaign and not to mention the fact that they have risen from seventh in the table to a minimum finish of second. It all makes for very impressive reading and hats off to Rodgers for being the catalyst behind this successful season.
But there is still something amiss, something that could have handed Liverpool the title this season with considerable ease if it had been at any sort of acceptable standard. The defence. Whilst the side this season may have out played many other Premier League teams they have still managed to leak goals, in fact nine more than when they finished seventh last season! How is that even possible I hear you ask? Well I think it needs closer attention and hopefully we can come to the bottom of what the issues have been with Liverpool’s back four this season.
Three or Four at the Back?
If there should be any criticism directed at Brendan Rodgers for his management this season then it should probably be as a result of his indecisiveness and decision making surrounding his defence. Liverpool started with four at the back, they then changed to three for a short period of time, before finally giving up on three and changing back to four. In September, Rodgers even decided to field four centre backs against Southampton with Sakho on the left and Toure on the right. Needless to say they lost the game 1-0. Next season Rodgers should decide on his best defenders and he should look to consistently play those players as much as possible. A fixed defence is a solid defence, whether it consists of three, four or five.
Since Rodgers doesn’t know what number is best to play at the back, he also doesn’t know what formation is the best one to play with. I don’t have the exact numbers but I would be surprised if there has been another team in the Premier League this season who have changed their formation more times than Liverpool. On the first day of the season against Stoke, Liverpool came out in a 4-2-3-1 which has then gone on to a 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2, 3-5-2 again, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 back to 4-2-3-1 and then finally settling on a 4-3-3 for the last few months of the season. The changes are just about understandable when we consider that Liverpool started without Suarez for the first few games of the season before losing Sturridge to injury for some time half way through the campaign. However, the constant changes has evidently had an effect on the defence which has consequently had to chop and change sometimes on a weekly basis during 2013-14. If Liverpool want to have similar sort of successes next year then a good consistent formation needs to be decided upon.
After this season Liverpool have only one recognised left back in their squad, Jose Enrique, (Aly Cissokho will almost certainly be returning to Valencia come June). The Spaniard has only started six games this season so clearly he is not in Rodgers’ plans. It has meant that when Liverpool have played four at the back this season they have had use right footed players like Flanagan and Johnson who we know are more natural on the right hand side of the pitch. Even centre backs Agger and Sakho have had to fill in on the left at some point this year. Liverpool need to secure a first choice left back in the transfer market this summer and also decide which right sided defenders they want to keep in their squad. They are slightly spoiled for choice in that respect with Johnson, Flanagan, Kelly and Wisdom all natural right backs. There is no doubt that Rodgers has realised by now that it makes no sense to have one left back in a squad and four for the right. Something has to be done over the coming months.
Fixed Back Four
Rodgers has not made his mind up who his best four defenders are in the squad. Especially in relation to the centre back position. Martin Skrtel has been a key fixture in Liverpool’s defence this season with 35 starts but apart from the Slovakian there has been little consistency. Sakho has 17 starts whilst Agger and Toure have 15 apiece and this constant chopping and changing of the centre backs would certainly have had no positive effect on Skrtel’s performances who hasn’t been able to create any solid partnership at the back. Liverpool paid £15 million for Sakho last summer and yet it seems that Rodgers has not had the faith to consistently play the Frenchman in defence. In fact Rodgers has said this season that he wasn’t expecting Sakho to play first team football this season but that he would be happy if he were to challenge for a place. This is utterly baffling for me when you consider that Sakho is now 24, he has already had at least three seasons at PSG as a first choice centre back and what is more, he now starts for the French national team. As a manager if you pay £15 million on a proven player, Sakho is proven, you must be committed to play him.
What To Do:
One of Kelly or Wisdom will probably have to leave in the summer. Kelly did very well when he played for the first team a couple of years ago but has struggled since recovering from his injury. Wisdom has been on loan at Derby this season and could well go on a permanent move to the Rams if they get promoted via the play-offs.
Coates – not good enough, has to go.
Daniel Agger – Rodgers doesn’t seem to have faith in him and Agger won’t enjoy another season around the substitutes’ bench. I can see him moving on this summer.
Kolo Toure will be kept as he can provide good cover for a small squad that will have to cope with the demands of Champions League football next season.
Jose Enrique has got to be sold, very very poor left back.
If Liverpool do anything this summer then it has to be going into the market and buying a first class left back and centre back. I would love to see them go in for Steven Caulker or Curtis Davies who have both had fantastic seasons in my opinion. Especially Caulker who surely will leave Cardiff now that they have been relegated.
An exciting change, if implemented properly, would be to see Liverpool have a proper go at the 3-5-2. It is such a rare formation to see in the Premier League but you only have to look at the kind of success that Juventus have had in Serie A with it and you wonder whether it could work with Liverpool.
Glen Johnson has shown that he has definite gaps in his defensive abilities and would jump at the chance to play in a more attacking wing back role. Rodgers can’t make his mind up about which centre backs to play so by using three that conundrum is thrown right out of the window. Needless to say, three centre backs could also be the answer to Liverpool’s poor defensive record.
Whatever Liverpool decide to do, I will eagerly be anticipating Liverpool’s activity in the transfer market this summer.