“The back four and defensive side of this team have shown they can’t cope with pressure. They’re not leaders”
Those were the words of former centre-back and club legend Jamie Carragher after Liverpool surrendered a 3-goal lead against Crystal Palace on Monday. He went on to surmise that it was their lack of leadership at the back that led to their capitulation in that game and the overall faltering of their title bid.
If someone told a Liverpool fan in August that they would be top of the table in the final week of the season and still be disappointed, they would have thought them mad. It has been a tremendous season. Brendan Rodgers, his players and staff, deserve plaudits for their style of play this season, their attacking flair and all they have achieved. They have been the most outstanding team in the Premier League to watch and have excited us all. But, unfortunately, one crucial piece of the puzzle is missing and it has become increasingly evident in the last few weeks.
The Reds went into Monday’s game needing the three points to put the pressure on Manchester City at the top of the table. One thing Brendan Rodgers and the fans could count on this season was Liverpool’s strike force, and Monday was no different. Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez all scored to put the home side three nil up and take the sides’ overall goal tally to 99 goals.
A deflected effort from Damien Delaney in the 79th minute should have been a consolation goal. Instead, nerves creeped into the back four and mistakes gave Dwight Gayle the opportunity to make it 3-2 two minutes later.
This was the time for a defensive leader to take his back four by the scruff of the neck and drag them over the line.
This would have happened had Jamie Carragher or someone of a similar presence been on the pitch instead of in the Sky Sports studio. His retirement has left Liverpool devoid of a leader at the back and as a result, clean sheets have been hard to come by. This lack of stability has led to 49 goals being conceded, including the three crucial ones scored by Palace.
Liverpool do have quality at the back but as of yet, no one has stepped up to fill Carragher’s shoes. There has been a record low of 10 clean sheets and an average of two or more goals have been conceded in 16 League games. The partnership of Skrtel and Sakho has been particularly weak, keeping only one clean sheet in seventeen games together. This statistic makes Daniel Agger’s relegation to the bench all the more of a head-scratcher for most fans.
It is something Liverpool will have to address in the transfer market this summer. Especially if they want to compete with the top clubs in Europe next season. They need a commanding centre back, in the mould of a Vincent Kompany or John Terry. All championship-winning sides have one. Manchester City finished well behind Manchester United last season. It was no coincidence that the 12 games that Kompany missed through injury and suspension coincided with City’s dip in form, handing the title to their rivals.
If they are able to rectify this problem and get their hands on a leader for their back line, I do believe they can launch another competitive campaign for the title next season. Until then, all they can do is hope a striker can once again save their blushes. No, not Sturridge or Suarez, but ex-Reds record signing Andy Carroll, who travels to the Etihad this Sunday hoping he can fire his way into Roy Hodgson’s summer plans.
It should make for a wonderful climax.
Donal Lucey, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Vincent Teeuwen from Vianen, The Netherlands (Trip Liverpool – FC Utrecht) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.