The league title did not escape Liverpool last season because of a lack of attacking riches, and despite the departure of the world’s best striker, the club still have plenty of options to choose from going forward; last year’s performers of Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson and Coutinho joined by Lambert, Lallana, Markovic, Balotelli and the ever-diligent Borini.

Whilst it may take a while for these players to click in the same scintillating manner as last season – and it would be hard to find a team in world football not hurt by the loss of Suarez – the performance against Spurs allied to impressive showings last season suggest that this year, like the last, will prove to be fruitful in front of goal. However, it is another performance against Spurs which should give the Reds greatest hope for this year – that of the defence.

Nobody expects the Spanish in position…

When Alberto Moreno (Albert Brown to you and me) was signed, to great fanfare, questions were raised about his defending. Likewise, when his compatriot Javier Manquillo signed, to less fanfare, few saw this as being a stable defensive blueprint upon which to re-build a shattered defence. After all, how could those wishy-washy Spanish types possibly adapt to a league as physical, as hirsute, as so fundamentally manly as the premier league? The fact that 20-year-old Manquillo leads every defender in the league in combined tackles and interceptions and Moreno did a more than adequate job at shutting out the supposedly revitalised Lamela only goes to tell half the story.

The pace, strength, tactical awareness and attacking potential of the Spanish contingent (ably backed up by the hardwork of the central midfielders) allow Rodgers to surrender numbers on the flanks in order to play two strikers – a formation that caused plenty of problems for a much-vaunted Spurs side. Whilst the highlight of the game was the magnificent solo goal scored by Moreno, there was plenty to be said for the lack of chances Tottenham had on either side of the defence. With Flanagan soon to be back from injury, capable of playing on either side, and the return to fitness of Enriqué, the Reds suddenly have an embarrassment of options in what used to be a problem position.

La revolution française: communication in the heart of defence

News of Martin Skrtel’s injury had many fans fearing the worst – the Slovakian had been a rock in the hard place of Liverpool’s defensive travails last year, showing a great willingness to adapt his natural ‘hoofball’ game to a more cultured style of play and applying his considerable physical strength and speed to bail the club out of trouble on more than one occasion. That said, the mis-match in styles between Skrtel and Lovren – the former having an almost sexual attraction to his own 18-yard-box, the latter wanting to hold a high line at almost any cost – had shown itself to be problematic in the first two matches. Therefore, in the knowledge that the Chinese have the same word for crisis as opportunity (crisitunity!) Rodgers decided to go with the wish of many an Reds fan and put Lovren alongside the French defender, Sakho.

The first clean sheet of the season was the result. Despite a number of mistakes, such as Lovren’s decision to try and clear Sakho’s ball, allowing Chadli a clear chance, and Sakho’s apparent inability to pass in the first half, the duo were solid. The communication which was so conspicuously absent last season may well be improved by the fact that the back three of Mignolet, Lovren and Sakho all speak French to a better level than English; Mignolet’s gesture following the aforementioned Chadli chance suggests this may be something to work on, but with a higher chance of success than the defefence had last season. So much so, in fact, that by the time Skrtel returns from injury he may find himself out of the team on merit, and a Reds defence more parsimonious than at any time under Rodgers before.

Conclusion

Under a coach such as Rodgers, the defence is not just there to stop the other team from scoring, but also to facilitate the scoring of goals by Liverpool. Moreno and, to a lesser extent, Manquillo, have shown that they are more than capable of adding to the Reds attacking options, whilst the partnership of Lovren and Sakho offers more in the way of 1v1 defending and play from the back than previous partnerships under Rodgers. The international break has, once again, come at an unfortunate time for Liverpool, but the next few games could well see them stake their claim as serious title challengers this year – on more solid ground than before.

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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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