By David Lynch at Anfield
Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat to Udinese in the Europa League on Thursday evening was equally as informative as it was compelling.
Reds fans were not only wowed by an entertaining, end-to-end encounter which their side were unfortunate to lose, but were also given an accurate depiction of just how Brendan Rodgers’ revolution is progressing. The monopolisation of possession is now fully expected, the goalscoring touch which lacked so often last season is finally there, but these new attributes seem to have come at a cost.
The Merseyside outfit now appear to have a problem with conceding goals at an alarming rate. What was once one of the country’s meanest defences is now one of its most porous.
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This new-found deficiency is doubtless a product of a change in management; an unfamiliar philosophy will always take time to bed in and can often lead to mistakes. But, for once, Rodgers seemed unwilling to admit that uncertainty over these adjustments has manifested itself in uncharacteristic hesitancy at the back.After the game, the 39-year-old told reporters: "We totally dominated and some of our play was really good, but we were so loose at the start of the second half it was frightening. I thought we were lazy, it was just loose, lazy and sloppy.”
His words marked an unusual change in tact for a man who is often eager to ensure his pass-at-all-costs system shoulders the blame for individual errors. His anger at the manner of his side’s loss was written on the ashen faces of the players as they left the ground on Thursday evening, but it is hard to believe that seeing their manager take this stance will help any of the squad.
The ease with which Glen Johnson surrendered possession in the lead-up to Udinese’s first goal could perhaps have been characterised as neglectful, but it is simply the latest in a long line of similar mistakes. Martin Skrtel’s errant backpass against Manchester City, Daniel Agger’s ill-judged Cruyff turn against Manchester United and Pepe Reina’s spill against Norwich all had the same hallmarks.
Even though Liverpool won the latter game 5-2, they still offered up several presentable opportunities to the Canaries as a result of their new approach. It seems this is not a fault so easily blamed on personnel either, given such defensive woes have plagued both the club’s first and second string teams.
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The 25-year-old’s return should pad out the canyon which at times opens up between the Reds’ defence and midfield when they are in transition, providing the knock-on effect of unburdening a backline who are so regularly exposed.
But one player cannot save the team, the manager will known this. There are certain wounds which only time can heal and defensive confidence must be bred through the consistent acquisition of clean sheets.
When new managers arrive at a club, supporters often talk of their willingness to show understanding in the face of negative results and inevitable teething problems. And so Liverpool fans are set to see their patience tested in this regard as their defence attempts to find its feet and plug the gaps.
Given the speed with which Rodgers has fixed his team’s other problems, he has certainly earned the time to mull over this slightly trickier conundrum.
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