EMRE Can had a bad day at the office on Sunday. You don’t need me to tell you that. He probably doesn’t need me to tell him that, either. Teeing up opposition strikers for shots in the box isn’t part of any coaching manual, anywhere, ever. It’s fair to say that, for all his strengths on the pitch, Emre has a error in him, to the extent that, according to Squawka player statistics, he has made more defensive errors than any other player in the Premier League this season.
There he is, right at the top of the league with five defensive errors, two of which have led to goals. You remember them, there was one at Goodison Park, too. Only one player, our mate Gareth Barry from across the park, has been adjudged to have made four defensive errors. So it is fair to say Emre is comfortably in the lead.
Squakwa use the Opta definition of defensive error, by the way. Which is:
“A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range. “
Five of them from Emre this season. Not exactly one for the CV, especially considering the most any player managed the whole previous season was seven.
So what do we do? Drop Emre Can until he stops passing to the opposition? Well it’s not as easy as that. Because the stats also show that they are all at it. To a certain extent at least. Liverpool this season are comfortably top of the table of trying to let the opposition score, with 14 defensive errors, compared with Arsenal in second place with 11.
Considering the fact that, between 2011-12 and 2014-15, 39 per cent of these clear chances led to goals, it is fair to say that we’ve actually got away with not being punished for these errors more.
Now the positive among you might be thinking this is merely a blip. Wrong. We were second in the same table last season and easily top of the defensive errors table in 2013-14. With this in mind, the fact that we were only third in the defensive errors table in 2012-13 seems almost a cause for celebration.
It’s a remarkable run of rubbish that transcends players moving in and out. Pepe Reina was the worst offender in 2012-13, coming sixth in the league overall for defensive gaffs, so he was shipped out and replaced by Simon Mignolet, who was straight in the charts at second in his first season for the Reds, despite finishing as low as 95th the season before with Sunderland, with Steven Gerrard also managing to come 13th.
Those two managed to sort their heads out in 2014-15, only for Dejan Lovren and Martin Sktrel to completely lose theirs, coming fourth and eighth in the league respectively.
Now I know you all want to blame Brendan Rodgers, and he is a common denominator throughout much of the period, but that theory doesn’t particularly hold up when you consider that his Swansea City team were actually bottom of the defensive errors table in his last season with them, with just seven all season. It can’t just be the former manager, especially as it has continued since he left.
So, what on earth is going on? Well don’t expect me to have all the answers. I’m still staring at these numbers in awe. It was certainly the case that, in Brendan Rodgers’ first season, we tried to implement a strategy of passing it out from the back, that had mixed results, most notably for Martin Skrtel at home to Manchester City.
It is also fairly clear that, in scoring 101 goals in 2013-14, there were times when the defence weren’t given a huge amount of protection, which would naturally lead to more errors.
However, since then Liverpool have attempted to be more solid, and the goals have dried up, with no notable decrease in the defensive errors.
Teams with limited attacking ambitions are also often towards the bottom of the defensive errors league, just because you are more likely to have another player there to cover your mistake. This season Liverpool still manage to sit at the top of the defensive errors despite scoring less than Norwich City, and the same number as Sunderland. Good going, that.
It’s hard to know how to coach defensive mistakes out of players. Especially when it is different players making them, and it seems irrelevant what tactics, or attacking intent, you employ on the football pitch.
Can Jürgen Klopp instill confidence in his players to deal with situations with a clearer head? Or coach them just to concentrate more in the key moments? Do we need to look at the profile of defensive players we look at and sacrifice certain things, like passing and that, for a fella who just volleys everything into touch? Do the crowd need to stop having a collective heart-attack every time the ball goes into the box and making the players all edgy?
It’s probably a combination of many things. I can’t help but feel it might be a question of leadership again, though.
Who is there at the back to make sure everyone is switched on? Who is puling everyone into the right positions? Who can spot the key moments where players need reminding of their responsibilities? Who can anticipate when another player might get the team in trouble?
I’m not sure he has been at Liverpool for a while to be honest. Especially at that end of the pitch. I might be wrong, of course. But whatever is causing it, it’s gone on far too long, and involved far too many different players, to be a fluke.
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