Liverpool must not neglect defensive responsibility during goal drought

By David Lynch

Ever since the summer transfer window ended in disappointment, Liverpool’s season has felt like an arduous journey toward January.

The Reds lack forward players of genuine quality after failing to adequately stock that department following the departures of Andy Carroll, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez. That is an indisputable fact for which their woeful ‘goals for’ column attests; one borne out of overused youngsters, injuries and an inability to rotate.

But, against Stoke on Boxing Day, another less-referenced weakness reared its head, as Brendan Rodgers’ side evidenced a defensive fragility their new manager had perhaps not bargained on.

Like most other issues facing this team – such as a problematic midfield blend – mending a porous defence is low on the list of priorities when compared to sharpening the attack. However, with the redemption offered by the January window still a number of days away, Liverpool must find an immediate solution to this problem for the trip to face QPR on Sunday.

As was the case on the last occasion this fixture was fulfilled, the Rs find themselves in the midst of a dogged Premier League relegation battle which will see them billed as underdogs. On this occasion, though, the west London side might well be looking forward to facing a team whose deficiencies they exposed as recently as March.

Liverpool fans will undoubtedly be more aware than their manager that Loftus Road was the scene of their biggest humiliation last season, one they will hope not to repeat this time around. The Reds led 2-0 with just 13 minutes of that game remaining before an implausibly late turnaround ensured they would travel back to Merseyside with a 3-2 defeat to show for their efforts.

The end of the game was described as “crazy” by various observers in the aftermath, an assessment which barely touched upon the reality – or the naivety shown by the visitors.

Recently appointed QPR boss Harry Redknapp might be confident of gaining a similar win on Sunday, with Liverpool offering plenty of encouragement to the opposition in recent games. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel’s sizeable Achilles heel – one which comes in the form of physically imposing strikers such as Kenwyne Jones or Christian Benteke – is now an open secret ready to be exploited.

Emulating that threat is a task which Jamie Mackie and former Reds striker Djibril Cisse will relish, whilst Agger and Skrtel face a test they must pass in order to prevent gaining a reputation as a timid pairing.

Of course, Liverpool’s first-choice defensive partnership are not the only option available to Rodgers, and their positions should not be viewed as entirely safe in light of recent performances. In fact, with every goal conceded (and there have been plenty of late), the marginalisation of the commanding Sebastian Coates becomes less easy to explain.

The Uruguay international has rarely failed to impress when given a chance and possesses the attributes that should allow him to compete more readily with the league’s more brutish forwards. The 22-year-old even provides a goal threat unmatched by his defensive colleagues, a quality not to be sniffed at in a side which sorely lacks goals.

Regardless, a solution must be found for the game against QPR which will endure when the shackles are let off following the inevitable addition of further attacking players. Otherwise, the salvation which fans believe the arrival of goalscorers represents will be just another false dawn.

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