Has Liverpool's defence started to perform at the right time?

Agger And Skrtel

Liverpool's win at the weekend meant they have kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since the opening three games of the campaign.

Liverpool’s defence has received a lot of criticism so far this season, but in the past couple of games those critics have been muted, following two consecutive 3-0 wins on their travels at Southampton and then at Manchester United.

In those games Liverpool’s back line has look much more assured rather than all over the place such as the game against Swansea City when Liverpool managed to win 4-3, or like the 3-1 loss to Hull City earlier on in the season.

So, have Liverpool discovered the art of defending well – which could help them land their first league crown for 24 years?

In these two games, Liverpool have played with the same back four though Jon Flanagan and Glen Johnson switched flanks from the win at St Mary’s.

So, what have Liverpool done differently in the past two games?

It seems they have had to get stuck into a challenge, and the statistics show that three out of the four defenders have relished it – though it seems Daniel Agger wasn’t targeted by either Southampton or Manchester United.

Here are there average statistics from the previous two games:

NameTeamPosDuel Won / appsAppsMins
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 9.50 2 180
Jon Flanagan Liverpool DF 9.00 2 180
Martin Skrtel Liverpool DF 6.50 2 180
Daniel Agger Liverpool DF 2.00 2 180
NameTeamPosWon Tackle / appsAppsMins
Jon Flanagan Liverpool DF 5.00 2 180
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 3.00 2 180
Martin Skrtel Liverpool DF 2.00 2 180
Daniel Agger Liverpool DF 0.50 2 180
NameTeamPosInterception Won / appsAppsMins
Jon Flanagan Liverpool DF 3.00 2 180
Daniel Agger Liverpool DF 1.00 2 180
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 1.00 2 180
Martin Skrtel Liverpool DF 0.50 2 180

From those three tables above, it shows that Flanagan, Johnson and Skrtel have all relished whatever physical battle was presented to them by both Southampton and Manchester United. If those statistics are compared to the rest of the season, how do they look?

To give as clearer and truer a picture as possible, we're taking the statistics from players that have made over ten appearances in the previous 27 matches the Reds have played this campaign.

NameTeamPosWon Tackle / appsAppsMins
Jon Flanagan Liverpool DF 2.42 12 979
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 2.06 18 1,531
Mamadou Sakho Liverpool DF 1.67 12 1,029
Kolo Touré Liverpool DF 1.47 19 1,434
Aly Cissokho Liverpool DF 1.46 13 1,027
Daniel Agger Liverpool DF 1.00 13 871
Martin Skrtel Liverpool DF 0.92 25 2,232
NameTeamPosDuel Won / appsAppsMins
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 6.89 18 1,531
Jon Flanagan Liverpool DF 6.00 12 979
Aly Cissokho Liverpool DF 5.92 13 1,027
Mamadou Sakho Liverpool DF 5.50 12 1,029
Martin Skrtel Liverpool DF 5.16 25 2,232
Daniel Agger Liverpool DF 4.62 13 871
Kolo Touré Liverpool DF 4.53 19 1,434

In both cases it seems that the selection Jon Flanagan and Glen Johnson as the two full-backs is warranted as they are performing to a high standard both in terms of the tackles won and the duels they've won.

Many people have argued that Mamadou Sakho would need to come back into the side in place of Daniel Agger for to make Liverpool's defence more solid - and in the statistics shown he seems to contribute a lot more than the Dane.

NameTeamPosInterception Won / appsAppsMins
Mamadou Sakho Liverpool DF 2.08 12 1,029
Martin Skrtel Liverpool DF 1.80 25 2,232
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 1.61 18 1,531
Jon Flanagan Liverpool DF 1.42 12 979
Aly Cissokho Liverpool DF 1.08 13 1,027
Daniel Agger Liverpool DF 0.92 13 871
Kolo Touré Liverpool DF 0.79 19 1,434

However with back-to-back clean sheets, it's doubtful that Sakho would replace Agger just yet, though there may be an opportunity if Rodgers wants to freshen the side up when Liverpool face three crucial matches next week against Cardiff, Sunderland and Tottenham, as they look to keep up their good form in pursuit of a first top flight crown in 24 years. 

Based on the statistics, it seems that Jon Flanagan and Glen Johnson may have improved in recent games. It may be down to them both returning from injuries recently and achieving full fitness, along with getting some regular game time. Martin Skrtel seems to be his normal, consistent self in the past couple of games compared to the rest of his appearances even though his numbers are a little higher than average as well.

Maybe it isn't a question that can be answered with statistics, maybe it's the 4-4-2 diamond formation played by Brendan Rodgers that is giving the side adequate protection defensively, or it could be the type of teams they have faced.

There doesn't seem to be a marked difference between the performance levels of the players at the back prior to the games mentioned in terms of statistics - but Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers will definitely welcome more clean sheets.

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