Myth of Liverpool defensive stability under threat

By David Lynch

Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger can perhaps count themselves lucky that Liverpool is a club which regularly lurches from one disaster to the next.

Whether it be criticism over the failure to sign Clint Dempsey, an inability to shift high-salary also-rans or Luis Suarez’s endless flirtation with controversy – there is always something big happening at Anfield.

For that reason, the fact that the Reds’ defending has been atrocious this season has somewhat slipped under the radar. And the two men who should take a large slice of the responsibility, the club’s centre-back pairing, have seemingly avoided blame for such underperformance.

Last Sunday – at the hardest ground to visit in the Premier League, admittedly – some suspect work at the back was to blame for the concession of two goals; events which proved decisive as the visitors lost 2-1. The opener saw Agger unwisely rocking back on his heels as the sprightly Robin van Persie nipped in front to score, whilst the second was facilitated by the bizarre decision to place Skrtel in the wall for a free-kick which was clearly set to be put in the box.

Such errors are comparable to the Slovakian’s ill-advised backpass during Liverpool’s first home game of the season at Anfield, one which allowed Carlos Tevez to earn a point the champions had barely deserved. Talk of early season rustiness and the teething problems expected when bedding in a new system were rife following that 2-2 draw in August but, as of January, they are still a regular occurrence.

Worryingly, the Merseyside club have conceded seven goals more than the 21 they had leaked at this point last season in the league, despite having parted company with Kenny Dalglish on the basis of seeking improvement. The eight clean sheets accrued so far also point to the likelihood that they will match last year’s tally of 12, despite intending to avoid the stagnation such statistics suggest.

At some point questions over the personnel who occupy the defence must be raised, and it appears that the fleeting but unsuccessful pursuit of Vegard Forren hints that they already are. In fact, the idea of selling one of Skrtel or Agger was toyed with repeatedly in the summer, with Manchester City said to be interested in a swoop for either centre-back at different stages of the window.

Suggestions that Swansea defender Ashley s was being targeted as a potential replacement were mocked at the time by Liverpool fans who believed the 28-year-old would be a step down. Yet, having seen the Wales captain form an impressive partnership with Chico Flores – one which has conceded four goals less than Skrtel and Agger thus far – would surely prompt a rethink on this business.

Of course, the chances of bagging the defender in January are slim due to his increasingly impressive performances under the stewardship of Michael Laudrup. That means Rodgers may be forced to look at one option which he has largely ignored during a season of defensive mishaps: Sebastian Coates.

The Uruguayan has made just three Premier League appearances so far this term, totalling 138 minutes of top-flight action. One of those brief outings came in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, as the centre-back was brought on at half-time to help his side switch to a back three and regain stability.

The 22-year-old was an impressive presence in that 45 minutes, helping Liverpool keep a clean sheet in the second half and seeing a match-winning assist chalked off after his compatriot Luis Suarez was wrongly adjudged to have been offside.

With that in mind, his exclusion from the first-team since is frankly bizarre. Age is no barrier to playing for Liverpool, as Rodgers’ regularly inexperienced team selections attest, but that Coates is being heavily linked with a loan move away from the club points to a misuse of an already thin squad.

And, when two men who are alleged to be at the peak of their powers are patently failing ahead of him, Coates might just wonder what he has to do.

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