Published on November 26th, 2013 | by Ben Wadsworth0
The Liverpool Defensive Conundrum.
The old saying goes, “Judge us after ten games.” Ten games is universally accepted as the amount of time it takes for a team to gel, for the fans to get an idea of how well their team is going to do in the season ahead and most importantly a chance for the manager to get an idea of his best XI. Whilst we have been pleasantly surprised as fans by sitting 2nd after 12 games and seeing the team look more like a team than ever, we have however yet to learn the managers favoured starting team and in particular his favoured back four/five.
As Rafa would say, it’s a fact, that consistency is the key to success and that is the one thing we have not seen at the back so far this season. In our first twelve games we have seen ten different players line up in defence with mixed results. In order to truly mount a challenge for that elusive top four slot we’re going to have to pick a back line and stick to it (injuries allowing).
It’s clear that Rodger’s style heavily favours Wing Backs and that is how he wants us to play going forward, however we lack the personnel for Wing Backs to ever be effective. Let’s have a look at what we have to choose from:-
The one true wing back we have. Glen Johnson has played the role for club and country for some years now and it is virtually a given the RWB position is all his.
Strengths – Johnson is fast, powerful and full of running. With a bag full of tricks, he has enough to keep the defender guessing. Willing to run at and take on his man to make the cross whilst equally capable of cutting inside and having a pop. He reads the game well and is a good judge of when to drive in and when to stay on his feet.
Weaknesses – In the past there have been some question marks on whether Johnson would be more suited to playing as an out and out winger but Johnson has worked on the defensive aspect of his game tirelessly to prove his critics wrong. Whilst he is now a lot more solid than in the past he does still suffer lapses in concentration and can be caught out of position with relative ease.
The impact Jose made upon his arrival in 2011 saw him hailed as the missing link we’d been searching for at LB since John Arne Riise’s departure however a dip in form saw some doubts cast on whether he had what it takes to make it at the top level. Since his first season Jose has gone from strength to strength and established himself as a key player at the back. With his injury likely to keep him out until February, it’s a huge blow to the side.
Strengths – Extremely powerful player, skilful and will give most that come up against him a run for their money in a foot race. Jose is a defensive rock with the ability to muscle anyone off the ball. Going forward he’ll get to the by-line and get crosses in all day but can hold the ball up very well when needed to.
Weaknesses - Arguably the most one-footed player you’ll ever see. Jose Enrique may as well not have a right foot. Whilst there not too many question marks about his ability as a defender he can sometimes lose concentration, dawdle one the ball and just be completely out of position however Jose’s biggest weakness is going forward. As an attacking force, Enrique is one dimensional, mainly due to his one-footedness. We all know that he’s not going to cut on to his right. His crosses often leave something to be desired and to be a truly effective LWB Enrique doesn’t offer enough in the goal creation department which does suggest why he’s not as favoured by Rodgers as he is by the fans.
Brought in on loan as cover for the LWB position, Cissokho has been given an opportunity to revive his career and replicate the form that made him a force at Porto and Lyon.
Strengths – Cissokho’s biggest strength is his pace, he has it to burn. Much like Enrique he is strong and powerful and will steam forward as often as possible. We’ve yet to see too much of Cissokho because of injury but with Enrique sidelined for a spell now is the time for him to shine. If he can replicate what made him special at Porto we could have an exciting player on our hands and he could well earn himself a transfer in the summer.
Weaknesses – There is one massive weakness that hampers Cissokho as a defender. The lad cannot defend. He’s rash and will dive into tackles and is quite error prone. The model Wing Backs are Cafu and Roberto Carlos defensively impressive and outstanding going forward. We can make allowances as the primary role for a WB is attacking, they will get caught out of position and it is left to the anchor man to take up the role as the extra man at the back, this means Lucas who’s main strength is breaking down attacks in the middle of the park which he cannot effectively do at LB whilst covering. Going forward Cissokho has a lot to offer but if he wants to be anything more than a journeyman player he has to step it up at the back.
Flanagan was thrust into the limelight under Dalglish against Man City where he impressed in a 3-0 win and went on to feature 12 times under King Kenny before falling off the pace and not featuring at all in Rodgers’ first season. Despite not playing for nearly 2 years we did see the surprise inclusion of Flanno in the 2-0 loss at the Emirates and again in the 3-3 draw at Goodison.
Strengths – As a local lad, Flanagan will always have the full support of the fans which will breed confidence in the player. This showed in his stint under Kenny as Flanagan didn’t look at all out of place amongst the superstar around him. Flanagan is a solid and reliable player who you can guarantee will always give 100% for the full 90mins. His youth brings a fearlessness which is always beneficial when coming up against the likes of Ozil and Mirallas as he will fight his corner and give his all.
Weaknesses – To put it bluntly, he isn’t cut out at this level. It’s no coincidence that in the two games he has featured in this season we have only come away with 1 point from a possible 6. I’m not for one minute making Flanagan a scapegoat for the results however a chain is only a strong as its weakest link. Much like Spearing, Flanagan has determination and spirit coupled with the passion you’ll only ever get from a player playing for his boyhood club. Whilst seeing a player come through the ranks is the goal of every team, when they’re not good enough, they’re not good enough, simple. For me Flanno is behind both Wisdom and Kelly in terms of ability at RWB as they both offer more going forward and are just as, if not more solid defensively and what’s more is they’re both CB’s by trade. I believe the reason we’ve seen Flanagan recently is due to the lack of depth in at Wing Back and asking CB’s like Wisdom and Kelly to play that position is just too much of an ask.
As you can see from the above, we are wildly understaffed at Wing Back and if that is a position Rodgers truly wants to push forward with in the long term than recruitments are desperately needed. With the January Transfer Window fast approaching, Rodgers needs to decide the best course of action:
- Start drawing up a shopping list. – The drawback for this however is the options available at the time of year are thin on the ground at best. With us most likely bringing in a 3rd of 4th choice or wildly over paying.
- Grin and bear it to see if we can make it into the top 4 which will give us the opportunity to pick from a higher calibre of player in the summer.
- Bring in another sub standard player on loan or opt for a young unproven talent.
- Change the philosophy until we have the right tools for the job.
Whatever Brendan Rodgers decides to do, he needs to decide quickly. We have a tough December coming up and a constantly changing back line can have a massively negative impact on results.