What's the reason behind Liverpool's defensive frailties this season?

Liverpool have been scoring for fun, but are not tight enough at the back.

For all of Liverpool’s prowess in front of goal this season, their defending leaves a lot to be desired. If they maintained their current scoring rate but managed to tighten up at the back, there seems to be little doubt the Reds could really be a force to be reckoned with.

Brendan Rodgers' team are second highest scorers in the league but also the most generous in the Premier League's top seven when it comes to conceding goals.

But what is the reason for that?

Liverpool did make several changes during the summer to their defence. Jamie Carragher retired and Kolo Toure was signed on a free transfer as a direct replacement. Goalkeeper Pepe Reina also left the club on loan as Simon Mignolet was signed from Sunderland - already two leaders at the back of the Liverpool side gone during the summer. Naturally, there was going to be a transition.

Mamadou Sakho also arrived at the club, along with Tiago Ilori who has yet to feature, so Liverpool knew that they had an issue defensively in the summer.

So, what haven’t they done this season to make them a more solid unit at the back?

It appears that chopping and changing the back line hasn’t helped Liverpool. This isn’t entirely down to the manager as injuries have had an effect on the side. Kolo Toure played the first two games of the season – both with the same back four and both producing clean sheets – until he got injured, when Martin Skrtel came into the side.

Skrtel has since been an ever present at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, was the only change in the third game of the season, and another clean sheet came the Reds way.

So far so good, but injury to Glen Johnson kept him on the sidelines for a while, and Daniel Agger’s muscle strain opened the door for Mamadou Sakho to stake a claim in the Liverpool side.

Manager Rodgers then adopted an alternative formation as Liverpool also switched to a back three after their 1-0 defeat against Southampton, resulting in Sakho, Skrtel and Toure becoming the regular defensive trident.

Injuries to full-backs haven’t helped Liverpool, with Jon Flanagan – naturally a right-back – getting the nod on more occasions when fit than Aly Cissokho on loan from Valencia, with Jose Enrique sidelined for a length period of time.

And on the right side of the defence, Martin Kelly is still working his way back to full fitness after over a year out on the sidelines.

Ever since their win over Manchester United in the league, Liverpool have only kept three other clean sheets – all having reverted to the original formula - with a back four.

Simon Mignolet has tried to adapt to a new club and has looked uncertain at commanding his area – but has had several different defensive personnel in front of him – and mistakes have crept into the game of the Belgian stopper in recent weeks.

The trio of Toure, Skrtel and Sakho have started five consecutive games on the bounce this season, whilst some players will have been brought in for a more ‘horses for courses’ approach.

Liverpool have changed their back line on 14 occasions so far this season, there have been 21 league games. A more settled unit with a lot more work on the physical side of the game could be what is required. It can not only allow players to become more familiar with their teammates during the game, but allow Simon Mignolet to have a greater understanding with his back line.

image: © jbj

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