Friday 30 September 2016

Rodgers still wrestling with taxing problem of Reds' defensive frailties

Simon Hughes

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

During a lengthy press conference ahead of Bournemouth's visit to Anfield tonight, Brendan Rodgers made a subtle but swift defence against an accusation levelled at him since he took charge at Liverpool.

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"I'm not dogmatic," he claimed, reasoning that the recruitment of Christian Benteke was proof of this, the striker providing "variety" for his team.

It was Liverpool's attack that failed them last season - the difference between competing for the title and qualifying for the Champions League, or finishing sixth. If Benteke scores the goals that Mario Balotelli did not, Liverpool will be closer to where they want to be.

Rodgers admitted that his team have to improve in other areas as well. In his three campaigns, Liverpool have conceded more than 40 goals a season, which compares favourably with their rivals. It is the manner in which they have conceded that builds pressure on the team and, indeed, the manager.

reliable

Rodgers has yet to discover a reliable centre-half partnership. Faith in Daniel Agger began to ebb when he left marking duties on Romelu Lukaku to Glen Johnson in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in November 2013, despite being given the responsibility from set pieces. Lukaku scored twice in the 3-3 draw, one from a corner.

Rodgers favoured Mamadou Sakho for the rest of that season, but the Parisian has since been struck down by a series of muscle injuries and it would be understandable if Rodgers followed the old Liverpool way of thinking when it came to his selection - that an injured player was not really a player at all.

Ian St John tells a brutal story about Jack Whitham, who signed for Liverpool in 1970 under Bill Shankly.

"Training for Jack was like jogging in between injuries," St John joked. "He was driving Shanks mad because he hated people who were like that. Finally he said one day to Jack, 'You, go up to the corner [where the pigsty was] and train up there. I don't want you to contaminate the rest of the team'."

Liverpool rejected a loan offer from AS Roma for Sakho on Saturday. He might stay but, for now, it seems Rodgers is planning to build his defence around Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren.

"It's key in any team," Rodgers said. "Having players that can play consistently for you, especially in a back five - that's vital."

That includes Nathaniel Clyne, a right-back with rapid recovery and someone who can "smell the danger".

Rodgers added: "We've got players that want to defend first and foremost, which is key to keeping clean sheets. From there, you have the platform to play."

Liverpool's defence might be supported by the presence of Emre Can in a holding midfield role. "I think his passing range, his strength, his power - it's best in midfield," Rodgers said of Can.(© Independent News Service)

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