In spite of the fact that Liverpool’s until-now stellar 2014 form has collapsed, with only one Reds performance so far this season (the 3-0 win at Spurs) in any way comparable to last term’s swashbuckling displays, nobody can credibly claim that Brendan Rodgers has suddenly become a poor coach.
However, the Northern Irishman’s targeting of players over the summer, allied with the way Rodgers is currently setting up his side, strongly suggests he either holds defending in very low regard, or is unable to sort out the Premier League runners-up’s backline.
Liverpool are 17/20 to keep under 11.5 Premier League sheet this season, with the same price available about 12 or more shut-outs. The former seems the most viable bet considering the way they’re playing.
Rodgers cut his coaching teeth under none other than Jose Mourinho, during the Portuguese’s first spell as Chelsea boss between 2004-07.
The Special One’s unprecedented success at Stamford Bridge was founded on a granite-hewn defence, which conceded the fewest goals ever in a Premier League campaign in Mourinho’s first term in charge.
Defensive ranks that included John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and William Gallas ahead of Petr Cech, in lockstep with Claude Makelele, who was busy redefining the holding-midfield role, allowed the likes of Arjen Robben, Damien Duff, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba to wreak havoc up front.
Based on the evidence of Rodgers’ Liverpool tenure, it’s clear that the County Antrim native believed Mourinho’s way, which won two titles by a combined tally of 20 points, was the wrong one.
Having paid little more than lip service to the notion that a midfield anchorman is a necessity, by bringing in now-injured £10m German Emre Can, Rodgers is reluctant start Lucas Leiva, his only other viable option in the position who has featured for less than 90 minutes in total so far this term.
Playing Steven Gerrard deep didn’t work for England and isn’t working for Liverpool, but Rodgers has even bigger problems behind his captain.
Dejan Lovren was billed as the missing piece in Liverpool’s defence over the summer, but with new wing-backs Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno constantly bombing upfield, and Mamadou Sakho looking less like a France international centre-half with every passing game, the former Saint is being hung out to dry.
The simplest solution to Liverpool’s backline blues must be switching to 3-5-2, with Kolo Toure – but Martin Skrtel when fit – bolstering the Sakho-Lovren axis while Manquillo and Moreno take up the wing-back roles they’ve obviously been used to since starting out at Atletico Madrid and Sevilla.
Liverpool would still be able to utilise a three-man attack of Mario Balotelli, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, with the teenager tucked in centrally, just behind his centre-forward teammates.
Philippe Coutinho, who has put in successive poor Anfield shifts further forward, in the Premier League loss to Aston Villa and the lucky Champions League win over Ludogorets, would be the creative spark from midfield, while Jordan Henderson’s box-to-box role barely changes.
There’s no room for captain Gerrard in this line-up, but the misplaced notion that the 34-year-old can operate as a holding-midfielder is just another thing Rodgers has to let go of.