Ronnie Whelan: How can professional defenders at Liverpool be that bad?
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IT’S not quite hand over the trophy to Chelsea time yet but it’s getting mighty close to it.
And the reason why Chelsea have risen above all the other ragtag title chasers?
Simple. And yesterday’s performance and win over Hull City was the perfect illustration. They have a defence.
Forget about tactics or modern strategies and think just good defenders. Lads who like to play at the back and know how to do it properly.
I don’t see them anywhere else. There’s a few scattered across all the teams but Antonio Conte has drilled his defence well and nobody does it better.
Arsenal somehow staggered into second place with a dogged enough win over Burnley but if the Gunners are the team fated to challenge Chelsea on the run-in, well then we really can hand Conte the trophy.
For exactly the same reason too. Arsene Wenger doesn’t understand defenders or the need for good ones.
What seems certain now is that neither Manchester club can win the title. United are 14 points off the pace and City just two better off.
Considering the amount of money spent in the city over the last two or three summers, that’s very poor.
Fans of both clubs must be deeply frustrated but no more aggravated than Liverpool supporters who sat and watched another Anfield defensive fiasco unfold in front of their eyes on Saturday.
It’s not the end of Liverpool’s title hopes for this season but near enough after a disastrous defeat to Swansea.
Jurgen Klopp again identified weakness at the back as his biggest problem but this is really an issue of resources across the whole squad and I’ve been saying this until I’m blue in the face.
With Joel Matip and Sadio Mane absent for one reason or another, gaps have opened up in Liverpool’s make-up, most worryingly at the back.
The goals are still coming but the way Liverpool defended all three scored by Swansea was laughable.
As Klopp said after the game, where were the challenges? Where were the tackles?
I know the game has become sanitised to the point of softness but it is hard to believe that professional defenders could be so bad.
This can only be addressed in the transfer market and if Klopp thought he could muddle through until the summer when his long-term plans may come to fruition, he needs to think again.
Matip sat on the bench yesterday which was very odd given the lengths Liverpool went to clear him to play. While he’s been out, Liverpool’s form has slumped.
He will surely come back in for the League Cup semi-final, second leg against Southampton which now becomes a must win.
If Liverpool continue to limp along in the Premier League and allow rivals to gather behind them, Klopp’s season could rely on Wembley Stadium.
If he can’t find a ready to go solution at the back in the next few weeks, Liverpool will be looking below instead of above and worrying about whether they can hang in for a top four finish and Champions League qualification.
Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will do everything in their power to make up the short gap to Liverpool and it would be very disappointing if that excellent run up to Christmas should trail off into Europa League territory.
What he and all the other clubs need is a hiccup from Chelsea and there is no sign of that.
They had to fight against Hull but there isn’t a better equipped team to do that. In essence, this was a 1-0 grind with icing put on by Gary Cahill’s late second goal.
Significantly, Diego Costa got the first and I’ve got to assume that whatever rush of blood caused by last weekend’s hype about China will blow over.
Chelsea play very well without him and proved that they can win when he’s sitting in the stand but if he disappeared for good, it might be a very different story.
I don’t expect that to happen now. The way he celebrated his goal told me he still wants to play for Chelsea fans and even if that might change in the summer, he is with them for the run-in.