The lion’s share of the plaudits for Liverpool this season have, with good reason, gone to players in advanced positions. The performances of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson and Coutinho have been lauded, with a hugely impressive goal tally underlining the attacking potency in this still young Liverpool side. An increased measure of control over games has also led to admiring glances being cast at the new-look Reds midfield, with Gerrard settling into his new role and Joe Allen proving a capable understudy when called upon. One area which has come under criticism, however, is the defence. More error-prone than any other team in the league this season, the back line has not been helped by a vicious succession of injuries to key players. The contrast with the notoriously frugal Arsenal team has gone to underline the importance of consistency in maintaining a tight defensive ship. Yet despite the somewhat erratic performance from certain players over the course of the year, the future of the Reds’ defence is in far better shape than this season’s travails would seem to suggest.


Simon Mignolet’s introduction to life at Liverpool could not have been more dramatic. The last-minute double save against Stoke (the rebound save from Jones’ shot far more impressive than his actual penalty stop) ensured Liverpool a winning start to the season and the Belgian ‘keeper seemed to go from strength to strength over the next few games, with key saves against both Aston Villa and Manchester United. The best performance of the season though would come in the away game at Goodison, as an impressive Everton team cut through time and again, only to be denied by a succession of top class blocks from Mignolet. For althe impressive reactions and saved points, Mignolet has also been guilty of mistakes. His hesitancy under high crosses and clear discomfort with the ball at his feet are unlikely to inspire a huge amount of confidence from the players in front of him, whilst his distribution has not been of top standard in every game. That said, his unwillingness to come and claim balls whipped into the box could also be attributed to the multiple changes in front of him – it is not unlikely that Skrtel deals with balls into the area in a different style to Sakho, for example. Likewise, the perceived lack of footballing skills may well come from unease at the skills of those players ahead of him. Given more time to adjust to the style of playing and a settled central defensive pair, Mignolet will regain the promise of his early games and be a stalwart of this Liverpool side for years to come.

In terms of back-up goalkeepers at Anfield, Brad Jones had an assured performance against Arsenal, showing a desire to impress and a decent command of his area. He will remain a fine reserve until such a time as the highly-rated Danny Ward can fill in on the bench. Ward himself is likely to head out on loan next season if a short term replacement for the departing Pepe Reina can be found, but the young Welshman will learn a lot from his season training with the first team.

Central Defence

Perhaps the most problematic area for the team so far this year, the defensive performances of those in the centre have been erratic to say the least. In the light of recent high-profile errors, it is worth remembering that Kolo Touré is currently the fourth-choice centre-back available to the club and has already been replaced in the side by returning Vice-captain Daniel Agger. The Ivorian’s performances at the start of the season were impressive, but a dip in form for a player brought in as a stop-gap is only to be expected. His clear determination to perform as best he can may well prove valuable again in the final run-in, as will his experience in chasing for honours at the top end of the season. Although it has seemed at times that Rodgers may not know his best partnership at the back, there have been encouraging signs in the form of Martin Skrtel this year. At 29 years old the Slovakian is unlikely to be a large part of the manager’s long-term plans, but he can offer a few more seasons of competition and experience. Similarly, Agger’s injury history counts against him but the Danish centre-back can still provide a reassuring presence in the squad.

The long-term partnership for the future appears to come in the form of two players who have perhaps featured less than had been anticipated in this year’s campaign; Mamadou Sakho and Thiago Ilori. The French international Sakho has played a fair number of first team matches, and while his season has been disrupted at points by injury, the 23-year-old defender from PSG has been impressive in his rapid adaptation to the Premier League. Blessed with a quick turn of pace, comfortable with the ball at his feet and dominant in the air, Sakho possesses all of the necessary qualities to become a true giant at the back for Liverpool. Crucially, despite leaving his boyhood club, Sakho appears to have settled well on Merseyside and has even found a second career should football not work out – teaching French at his local primary school. By contrast, Ilori has had a quiet start to his Anfield career, but as the manager has been at pains to point out, he is a buy for the future. With that in mind, his loan to Granada makes perfect sense for the club. It will allow him to shoulder more responsibility as well as honing his skills at the top level. Having already impressed in the match against Betis, Ilori has the requisite abilities to become a top level player. His outstanding pace is just one of his attributes; an excellent range of passing and very good positioning in such a relatively inexperienced player bodes well for the future. With Skrtel and Agger capable of filling gaps until the two youngsters are ready, the problematic nature of Liverpool’s central defence this season ought not to re-occur.


Injuries also occurred frequently in the right-back position for Liverpool this season, with Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Kolo Touré all being unavailable for selection at various stages of the season. Such was the paucity of options available to Rodgers that Johnson had to play for a large number of games during the season whilst struggling with an ankle injury picked up against Manchester United in one of the earliest matches. The resultant drop-off in performance mirrors that of Joe Allen in the previous year, as he continued to play despite a shoulder problem. The upsurge in form from Flanagan however meant that Johnson was able to get proper treatment, and should be back to the side in just enough time for the run-in. Flanagan has shown a maturity and quality that many did not expect this season, although his real competition in future seasons may well come from a player who has barely featured for Liverpool this year – Andre Wisdom. The powerful centre/right-back has been enjoying regular time at Championship side Derby, and appears to be having a successful season. In the showing against Chelsea in the League Cup he managed the not insignificant feat of outpacing Eden Hazard, and indeed was able to keep the brilliant Belgian quiet for a large proportion of the game. Speed aside, Wisdom has strength and stamina by the handful, and can look to a strong pre-season next year as a way of forcing his inclusion in the side.

Unfortunately, it appears that Martin Kelly’s injury woes may well prove to be the end of his promising career. In the games that he has played, Kelly has looked a hesitant shadow of the player who burst onto the scene a few short seasons ago with a man-of-the-match performance against Lyon. It speaks volumes that both an injured Johnson and an inexperienced Flanagan have been repeatedly picked ahead of him, and Kelly needs to hope for a long period off the treatment table if he is to resurrect his Liverpool career. Meanwhile, Kelly’s absence has meant an extended run in the side for Flanagan, and he has seized the opportunity with relish. Perhaps lacking some of the requisite quality to play in a title-winning side, Flanagan has nonetheless demonstrated that he is a willing and able back-up who will give his all for the team. Along with Wisdom, Flanagan is beginning to show that the need to sign a right-back may not be as pressing as first thought.


Another problem area for the Reds this season, left-back is perhaps the position in most need of an upgrade over the summer. A long-term knee problem for José Enriqué served to indicate the severe lack of options for the team in this area, whilst loanee Aly Cissokho has had injury problems of his own to contend with. An improvement in performance over the second half of the season may have come too late to land him a permanent deal with the club, and although Jack Robinson has been playing creditably at Blackpool there seems little to suggest he is the best solution to a problem position which has plagued the club for many seasons now. With Enriqué set to return in a month or so, Rodgers will be able to assess the urgency with which he must conduct his search for a replacement. The good news is that there do appear to be a number of highly talented left-backs around Europe who would relish the chance to play for Liverpool.


It may seem strange following on from a season of near calamity in defence for Liverpool, but the future itself is assured – provided a signing can be made in the left-back position. A back 5 of Mignolet-Wisdom-Ilori-Sakho-Rodriguez (for example) has more than enough talent to be one of the best defences in Europe in a few years’ time. If the youngsters Ilori and Wisdom can build on their obvious potential, Sakho and Mignolet can continue their excellent development thus far and the right player be brought in to fill a gap on the left hand side, error-strewn seasons like the current campaign may well be a thing of the past.

Back to the future? How Liverpool’s defensive horizons look bright.

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About The Author

Toby Podmore

is a Liverpool-supporting cuckoo from a rugby-mad South African nest in north London, Toby Podmore was brought to Liverpool football club through a soft spot for Michael Owen. With that well and truly gone, his love for the club has remained with him from France to the UK and back again. He now spends his time reading, writing and watching the club from Belfast.

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