I WAS going to write a piece about how great it is to be joint top of the Premier League table after nine games. How positive I feel about the men we are currently watching grace the football pitch, trying to stop the opposition from taking our points.
But then the Achilles’ heel struck again. The inevitable set-piece goal was conceded and it sent many of us into a frenzy about why we just can’t seem to stop that bloody ball from causing such panic amongst our defenders – and then eventually ending up in the back of our net.
‘Keepers have been blamed for not coming for the ball. Defenders for not doing their job properly. Jürgen Klopp for not sorting it out in training. And then, on Match of the Day on Saturday, Mark Schwarzer went all ‘zonal marking’ and ‘Liverpool don’t have anyone on the post’ crazy on us. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
As I made my way to do The Pink after the game, I listened to 606 where it was suggested that Liverpool cannot win the league because their defence is not good enough. If you concede goals like that, there is no way you can win the league.
While our goals conceded is above the average for this stage of the season, for three of the last six seasons the title winning team had conceded more after nine games. We also have the same or more points than the eventual winners in 15 seasons since the Premier League’s inception.
Not to mention the games we’ve played so far. Three tough fixtures away at Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea. Last season’s champions Leicester and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have both visited Anfield. Three potential banana skins in Burnley away, Swansea away and West Brom at home and one everyone expects to win in Hull at home. If you think I’m being a little generous then just go and have a look at our recent records in those games.
With the scrutiny placed on our defence, it’s remarkable that we still sit third in the table, level on points with both Manchester City and Arsenal – and only narrowly behind on goal difference. Yet Everton, with the second best defensive record in the league, are sixth without a win in four.
It seems some journalists, presenters and pundits apply this level of scrutiny and make these kind of statements just because it falls into the story they want to peddle. Time and again our defence is not good enough. There always has to be a flaw to point out or a criticism to be made – though, it’s worth remembering that no side is perfect.
Back to the set-piece conundrum. Recently on Monday Night Football, Klopp highlighted that we use a mix of both man-to-man and zonal marking. This seems like the best way to go about it. It might be difficult for some to grasp but, believe it or not, a post is a zone.
Also, compared to the majority of other teams in the Premier League, we are practically a team of short-arses. If you’ve only got a select amount of players who can compete with the opposition, in terms of size, then surely we’re at a massive disadvantage? How do we even combat this? We can’t stretch our players out as Jürgen joked about on Sky.
Our shortest players – the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne – are all integral to the way we play. Without them, we lose the nucleus of what makes us so good. The flair that has us drooling. The heartbeat of a side that has developed an identity under Klopp.
The best teams know their strengths and play to them. We know what we are good at and what we are not, and so do other teams. They can tweak their side to win the aerial battles because they know that is their best chance. The truth is, they are having to change their side to give themselves ANY chance.
So, the next time we are defending a set-piece I will be nervous, I know it is fraught with danger. But cry-arsing about it isn’t going to help those lads in red. Do what you are bloody good at, and keep doing just that! We are joint top for goodness sake!
Up the short-arse Reds!