Liverpool's defensive record must be addressed ahead of Champions League campaign

Liverpool Scarves

Liverpool have played some sensational football under Brendan Rodgers this season and are in an ideal position to qualify for the Champions League.

Brendan Rodgers’ side currently sit in fourth in the Premier League table, six points clear of Tottenham in sixth place and just four points off leaders Chelsea. Not only could the Merseyside giants qualify for next term’s Champions League as they set out to do, but they could very well have a say in the title race this term.

Liverpool (along with Manchester City in third place) have scored a record number of goals this season – no team in Premier League history has scored as many goals to this point (70 in total for Liverpool and 69 for City).

However, whilst Brendan Rodgers can boast the most dangerous striker and the most effective strike force in the Premier League (as well as possibly across the continent overall) in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge who have scored a sensational 41 league goals between them so far this term with still eleven games left to play between now and May, the Reds will need to improve their defensive record.

I believe it’s a near-certainty that Liverpool will qualify for the Champions League this season – I cannot realistically see Tottenham, Manchester United or Everton posing a genuine threat to Liverpool who could even finish higher than fourth if they continue in their current vein or form.

However, Liverpool have conceded more goals against than any of the teams above them as well as more goals conceded than the three teams beneath them at present – 35 goals is a lot to concede and even though the SAS and the team in general have performed exceptionally well, Rodgers must address his defensive failings this term ahead of the new season.

In the Champions League, top teams set out with a different kind of mentality and because there are fewer games, there is more of a focus on not conceding as a priority, especially in the home games where away goals for the opposition can prove costly.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet started the season well after arriving at Anfield from Sunderland and has kept 7 clean sheets in his 27 appearances but he conceded a goal on average 1.29 times per game or every 69 minutes. Another new arrival this summer, Kolo Toure has made some costly mistakes at the back this term and at his 32 years of age he should have the experience to avoid those errors.

Liverpool as a team have conceded 354 shots on their goal, averaging 13.1 shots conceded per league game which is around the same number as Crystal Palace.

Incidentally, Palace make more tackles than any other team in the league but Liverpool come a very close second in that department with their 22 tackles made per game on average so far.

This correlates with the relatively few interception made by the Reds this term, just 12.5 on average per game which is on par with teams like Stoke and Norwich, and, to me, it suggests the team need to concentrate more on winning possession in midfield rather than leaving the defensive actions up to the defence.

The Reds take an average of 54.4% of possession in the league overall and 55.7% at home with a pass success rate of 83.9% - the play in the team has been exceptional in terms of possession retention, technical level and creativity as well as the tactical set up by the boss but there must be a re-evaluation of what happens when they lose the ball between now and next season.

The team also win few aerial duels – just 15.1 per game which puts them in the bottom four in the league on that alone yet they seem to have the capability to make the most of their set pieces going forward, demonstrated by the fact they lead the league in terms of set piece goals (17 in total) which suggests it’s not about their ability but rather their attention and focus on defensive responsibility.

image: © Vincent Teeuwen

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