The last two home games for Liverpool have seen superb performances undermined by a mix of gross incompetence from referees coupled with individual defensive errors which have ruthlessly been capitalised on by proven goalscorers, and the Reds have somehow come away from both games as the losing team, despite having dominated the majority of the play. This is nothing new for the Anfield faithful, who saw the same thing happen time and time again last season, but despite it feeling like the same old cycle, with each game that passes this team looks more and more comfortable in Brendan Rodgers’ system.
What you took away from last night’s game is fully dependent on your view on Liverpool as a team and Rodgers as a manager. His critics will claim that Liverpool played well but failed to win games last season under Dalglish, so nothing has changed; his advocates will point to the level of performances and claim that it is just a few issues that need ironing out before the team climb up the table. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle, but anyone who has watched the Reds this season will realise that had they not shot themselves in the foot repeatedly, they’d be in a much more promising position than they are now.
In this system the manager likes the team to push up the pitch and press the ball, with the hope that the team win it back in opposition territory and are able to maintain pressure. The problem with that, though, is that if that fails, and the opposing team manage to get the ball forward, the side is susceptible to the counter attack – particularly last night when you have two immobile centre-backs - as often the full backs and midfielders are out of position. We have seen examples of this; the opening game of the season being the best example. But he more the team play and assimilate themselves in to this style of play, the less of a concern this should become.
This season alone he was either directly at fault or defended poorly for both goals in the Arsenal game, the only goal in Sunderland’s game and Udinese’s first two goals last night.
What is a huge concern, however, is the regularity with which our defenders are making basic errors, and it’s difficult to blame individual mistakes on the system we play. Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel have been two of the biggest culprits this season, with both players struggling to recapture their early form that made them so highly rated in the first place. However, both of those players have shown consistent form in the past, whilst Glen Johnson’s entire Liverpool career has been littered with defensive brainfarts which have cost us goals and, ultimately, points, yet he never seems to draw the ire of the fans.
Irrespective of the circumstances surrounding his arrival (Portsmouth owed Liverpool money as part of the Peter Crouch deal, which meant the deal was easier to facilitate) the price paid for him – or the value of the deal if you consider the factors mentioned - was scandalous. Granted, you pay a premium for homegrown players, and with attacking full backs you accept that there will be occasions when he is caught out of position or makes a mistake, but a couple of mazy runs which result in an over-hit cross or long-range shot don’t make up for the fact that he is an average defender who has been fortunate that others have played as poorly as him or his place in the side would be in serious jeopardy.
It comes to something when he plays better out of position on the left, maybe because he has to think about things more as they don’t come naturally to him. This season alone he was either directly at fault or defended poorly for both goals in the Arsenal game, the only goal in Sunderland’s game and Udinese’s first two goals last night. You expect a certain amount of mistakes but, as is the case with Reina, it is the frequency that these mistakes are happening that is most concerning.
Perhaps his defensive shortcomings would be easier to accept if he was constantly producing going forward, but 7 goals and 8 assists for Johnson since joining Liverpool more than three years ago is not the contribution of a top class attacking full back.
Perhaps his defensive shortcomings would be easier to accept if he was constantly producing going forward, but 7 goals and 8 assists for Johnson since joining Liverpool more than three years ago is not the contribution of a top class attacking full back. Dani Alves, for example, got twice as many assists for Barcelona just last season alone. Last season the likes of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Stephen Warnock, Ryan Taylor, Patrice Evra, Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic and Kyle Walker – who appears to be developing in to the player Johnson was supposed to become - to name but a few were all more productive than England’s right-back
I have to admit, as someone who has zero interest in the England national team (actually, truth be told, I take a certain amount of pleasure at seeing them repeatedly fail in the big tournaments in such spectacular fashion) it baffles me that Johnson is played ahead of Kyle Walker and Micah Richards. I could understand him starting for them a few seasons ago, but he’s not even been the second best English right back over the past twelve months. Also, it appears Roy Hodgson has forgotten how Johnson loved telling the press how Woy’s style of football didn’t suit him at Liverpool (it didn’t, granted, but bar a six month spell under Dalglish, his form never lived up to his ridiculous price tag, so blaming it solely on the managers methods was unfounded).
There’s not a chance Rodgers would recoup anything close to the fee that was paid if he chose to sell him, and then his overgenerous wages would also prove to be a stumbling block, but going forward, Johnson’s form is something that must be looked at. With Martin Kelly’s injury ruling him out for the season, there isn’t much Liverpool can do but hope his performance level improves, as it is unfair to expect Andre Wisdom or John Flanagan to come in and play every week. Having said that, the mistakes have been coming from the supposedly reliable, experienced senior players, so maybe that wouldn’t be a bad move.
You can follow Alex on twitter @woolfc
More great articles on Liverpool
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook