Liverpool finally got their first league win of the season at Carrow Road on Saturday, as they thumped five past hapless Norwich City. However, they maintained their average of conceding two goals per Premier League game this campaign at the same time, as errors by Reina and Skrtel enabled the Canaries to have a little something to chirp about.
Sadly for the Reds, whilst Suárez and co. bought their shooting boots along for once, the mistakes at the back were par for the course so far this season. A closer look at the figures shows just how much worse Liverpool have been defending when compared to last season.
In the whole of the 2011/12 league campaign, Liverpool players made nine errors which lead to goals, meaning that 22.5% of the forty goals they conceded were self-inflicted in other words.
Yet this season, thanks to a brace of errors each by Reina and Skrtel, plus one by Martin Kelly, the Reds have let in five of their twelve goals against (41.7% of the total) due to their own mistakes. From a rate of one every 4.2 games last season, Liverpool have shot themselves in the foot every 1.2 matches so far this term.
Of course, when you consider what the Liverpool defence have had to deal with, perhaps such mistakes and uncertainty are to be expected.
I previously noted here that the Reds’ best defensive form last season came when they fielded the same back four for eleven league games in a row. Similarly, when Liverpool set the club record of eleven consecutive clean sheets (in 2005/06), the same back four of Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia and Riise started eight of the matches. Consistency at the back appears to be key to improved defensive performance.
Yet in Liverpool’s six league games so far, they have only had the same back four in successive games on one occasion (away at Sunderland and then at home to Manchester United), and in only three of the six matches has the starting back four completed the match, thanks to a combination of injuries and red cards.
Throw in the cup games as well and the amount of changes is remarkable; so far nine different back four combinations, featuring a total of ten different players have formed Liverpool’s back line in just twelve games in all competitions.
Seven of the nine ‘back fours’ have not played together more than once, and on a game-to-game basis since the first match of the season away at Gomel, the Reds have averaged 2.55 changes per match.
It’s important to remember that some of the defenders are young and inexperienced too. Andre Wisdom made his debut this season, Jack Robinson has only just turned eighteen and had made just five appearances prior to this campaign, and even Copa America winner Sebastian Coates has only made eleven starts for the Reds to date.
Even the longer standing and regular playing members of the defense (such as Johnson, Skrtel and Agger) are playing for a different manager for the fourth season in a row, and have had to learn different tactics each campaign to boot. That the back four’s trusted shielding midfielder Lucas Leiva only made it to the fifth minute of the second league game before succumbing to injury has only accentuated the problems further this season.
In view of all of the above, some errors and a lack of cohesion at the back is certainly to be expected. With at least six cup games in amongst the next ten league games, it’s unlikely that a settled back line will appear for the Reds any time soon, so hopefully once the players are more comfortable with Rodgers’ tactics the constant errors will become a thing of the past. They certainly need to be, as this Liverpool side won’t bale them out with three-or-more goals too often.