Sunday 17 December 2017

Comment: Liverpool in dire need of defenders able to tackle and mark

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp Photo: PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp Photo: PA

Ian Herbert

Ronnie Moran, whose life and work were celebrated at Anfield on Saturday, was part of a management team which was obsessed with fixing weaknesses and hated to talk about winning, so it is reasonable to reflect on what there was to worry about in Liverpool's 3-1 victory at Anfield, which extended Everton's winless run there to 18 years.

Jurgen Klopp was surprisingly frank about the problem. Set-pieces were "still a question for us to find a real answer for", he said. "You can really be sure we are working on this. It is not our best skill."

Schalke's Bosnian left-back Sead Kolasinac, out of contract this summer, has been tracked by Liverpool, but a more radical solution may be needed.

Saturday represented one of the most ineffectual Everton performances in all of those 18 years and yet Liverpool's embarrassment might easily have extended beyond the corner from which they conceded a painfully soft equaliser.

There were times in the second-half when their zonal marking was not fit for purpose. There was also that perennial sense you get with them that a standard cross into the box can give any opponent cause for hope.

A free-kick early in the second-half had almost brought Everton to 2-2, before Mason Holgate was given the freedom of Liverpool to leap for a Leighton Baines cross, which he somehow conspired to head over.

As the 'Liverpool Echo' memorably put it: "Does anyone fancy some marking?"

Moran, a former left-back and club captain, didn't go in for technical defensive tuition during the years when Bob Paisley's side brushed all others aside. The philosophy was that you didn't need to be told if you played for Liverpool.

It certainly feels like they need a new defensive anchor in there to lead the line and sort out the mess.

Injuries have been a problem. This was only the 13th time that Klopp has been able to field Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip together this season and there have been over 20 different defensive combinations in all.

One of Paisley's articles of faith was a central defensive pairing who knew each other, yet there is no disguising the muddle.

By most indicators - tackles, blocks and interceptions - Liverpool are the league's sixth best side, but that is not good enough, of course, for a club seeking one of the precious Champions League places.

They will be without Sadio Mane for at least Wednesday's match against Bournemouth and Klopp's prickliness when asked how he would cope demonstrated what a concern this is - with the hope being that Daniel Sturridge might be able to step in.

They've started flying a '1999' banner at the Kop end and chant that year now, seizing on the psychological burden which is attaching itself to Everton's long years without a win at Anfield.

It's akin to the ticker at the Old Trafford Stretford End that taunted Manchester City about their lack of trophies, but United were busy winning things while they were ridiculing the neighbours.

Moran, the attack dog of Paisley's back-room team, would have been the first to remind the Reds fraternity that local honours are satisfying, but winning the championship is what really counts.

To do that, you need a proper defence.

Independent News Service

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