Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at home against an injury hit West Ham side came as a surprise to most people.
The Hammers hadn’t won at Anfield in over fifty years, but they made amends for that lost time quickly as their new signing Manuel Lanzini opened the scoring after three minutes.
After three clean sheets in the opening trio of fixtures, many thought Liverpool looked more solid and were getting the defending on track after three seasons of conceding far too many goals.
Since Brendan Rodgers took over as manager in the Summer of 2012, the Reds have let in a worrying amount of goals. In 2012/13, Rodgers’ first season, 43 goals were conceded by his side. In the 2013/14 season, where the title was in agonisingly close reach, 50 goals were conceded. And 48 were shipped last season.
That’s a total of 141 goals in three seasons. And so bad is Rodgers’ defensive record as Liverpool boss, that he has a worse goals per game conceded record than any other manager since Bill Shankly took over in 1959.
Rodgers has attempted to improve his side’s defensive stability this season by signing two new defenders in Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez. And each has been impressive so far this season and are looking like money well spent. But Liverpool’s soft centre remains.
Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren do not look a convincing partnership at the back. Skrtel has had a generally poor start to the season while Lovren was being praised by Rodgers for his return to form prior to the West Ham game. How foolish the manager must feel now after seeing the Croatian’s horror show on Saturday afternoon.
Rodgers was quick to back the £20m signing from Southampton – a player he wanted to sign, not one brought to him by the transfer committee. The former Lyon defender is very much Rodgers’ man and he is pushing him ahead of Frenchman Mamadou Sakho – which has disgruntled a lot of supporters.
The calls for Sakho’s return to the side will become louder after the disastrous showing from Lovren against the Hammers. The defender had looked more solid on the main against Stoke, Bournemouth and Arsenal. But he reverted to being the accident waiting to happen that he was last season.
Rodgers was also quick to point to the three clean sheets that had given Liverpool a strong platform to build on from the opening three games of the season. But strictly speaking, they were not clean sheets at all.
Both Bournemouth and Arsenal scored perfectly legitimate goals against the Reds and each will feel that they should have won the games that Liverpool walked away with four points from.
Tommy Elphick had a headed goal disallowed at Anfield for Bournemouth when he rose above Lovren in the box from a corner to nod in. Lovren dropped to the floor as if he had been fouled and the quick thinking, if indeed that it is what it was, saved the clean sheet and was a big let off for the defender.
Aaron Ramsey then had a goal flagged for offside a week later despite Skrtel playing him onside along the edge of the box. It was another stroke of fortune for the Reds.
Another big stroke of luck from the officials was the decision to let Christian Benteke’s goal stand against Bournemouth, despite Philippe Coutinho clearly being offside and interfering with play.
Had those decisions all been called correctly, Liverpool would be sat on three points now with just one goal scored and five conceded. It’s that startling dose of reality that makes the 3-0 loss to West Ham slightly less of a shock.
Rodgers has not taken care of the biggest issue in his team. Not one of the centre-backs he has at his disposal is good enough to have got near some of the Reds sides from recent history.
Skrtel, Lovren, Sakho and Toure would not come close to threatening the places of Jamie Carragher or Sami Hyypia ten years ago. They are all adequate back-up players, on their day at least, but I do not personally trust any of them to lead the defensive line and be consistent enough.
Sakho is our best central defender for my money. He may make some sloppy passes and get his legs tied up, but he is generally more solid and secure than the others. Skrtel has been poor so far this season and is flattering to deceive as the leader at the back under Rodgers.
Lovren is a disaster. There’s no two ways about it. This guy is not close to being good enough and Rodgers’ continuing faith in him could well be the tipping point that costs him his job as Liverpool manager. The clanger he dropped for West Ham’s second goal yesterday was trademark Lovren.
We struggled for goals last season and needed to make changes up front, but we also had the equally pressing concern of conceding far too many at our end. A defensive leader with experience and quality was essential this Summer or the defensive errors would continue.
Quite how Rodgers could look at his squad at the end of last season and think that the same four centre-backs should continue into a make or break season is beyond my comprehension. The quartet have been part of the sloppiest and most porous Liverpool back line seen since the 90s and the likes of Bjorn Tore Kvarme and Torben Piechnik.
I personally don’t believe that Rodgers has sufficient understanding of the defensive side of the game and he hasn’t learnt anything about it since he took over as boss just over three years ago.
We have not improved at the back, in fact we have got worse with each season, and it should have been made a priority this Summer. I struggle to have much faith in a side that looks short on creativity and a cutting edge at one end and as weak defensively as at any other point under Rodgers.
Next up is a trip to face Manchester United at Old Trafford in two weeks’ time. Not the fixture Rodgers would pick after the mauling his team took from West Ham.