Buck up at the back

Buck up at the back
The Reds’ new centre-back pairing of Dejan Lovren (near left) and Martin Skrtel (far left) have to be on the same wavelength and fullbacks Javier Manquillo (above) and Alberto Moreno (top) need to bed in quickly.

The more things change, the more they seem to remain the same for Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers blooded another new signing in Alberto Moreno against Manchester City, but the left back unwittingly conspired with new centre back Dejan Lovren to gift the first goal to Stevan Jovetic.

Clearly, the Reds' defensive woes, which ultimately cost them the Premier League title last season, have yet to be solved despite the infusion of three new defenders.

What would be of concern to Rodgers is the manner of their downfall. All three City goals could have been prevented had everyone been more alert to their tasks.

Until City's sucker punch at the close of the first half, Pool kept it tight at the back and enjoyed a slight edge in attacking play.

But the goal meant the Reds had to be more expansive after the break. That was when the gulf in class became obvious as City went about ruthlessly punishing Pool's defensive lapses.

Lovren, seemingly Rodgers' anointed defensive leader who was so commanding in the 2-1 defeat of the Saints, was culpable for City's other goals with poor decision-making.

Both times, he was too gung-ho in pushing up to try to win the ball and got caught out. Perhaps he's trying too hard to impress and just needs to settle down.

As for Moreno, his one fatal lapse in concentration detracted from a solid debut in which he showed grit and guile. He may yet be the answer to Liverpool's left-back shortcomings.

The duo and right back Javier Manquillo, who made his debut against the Saints, show enough promise to indicate that once they click as a unit, the Pool defence will be less generous than the one that conceded 50 goals last season.

But, with the games coming thick and fast, they don't have the luxury of time.

It doesn't help that the Reds' next assignment is away to high-flying Tottenham Hotspur, who look like a team transformed under new manager Mauricio Pochettino.

The surprise is not that the Argentinian has brought his Southampton ethos to White Hart Lane but how quickly his new charges have embraced it. Away to West Ham, Spurs showed steel after going down to 10 men to win via a late goal.

Then they ripped apart Queens Park Rangers, who opted to play with the back-in-vogue 3-5-2 formation. Two of the three centre backs were the ageing Rio Ferdinand and Richard Dunne, whose lack of pace left the team woefully exposed.

Liverpool will be a different proposition. The match-up is intriguing for several reasons.

For Spurs, it will be the first real test of their top-four credentials.

Players like Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli, who looked out of sorts last season, are flourishing under Pochettino. All that's needed now is for Roberto Soldado to start scoring again and Spurs supporters will be in dreamland.

For Liverpool, the Luis Suarez-inspired 5-0 rout of Spurs at the Lane last season not only cost manager Andre Villas-Boas his job, but it also sparked a run of victories that brought the Reds so tantalisingly close to the league title.

TOO EARLY

This season's tie has come too early to have such major implications, but it is still important for the Reds to set some sort of marker with a win.

It was no disgrace losing away to champions Man City who, even at this early stage, already look more formidable than last season.

But a loss to Spurs will start alarm bells ringing and raise questions about how the Reds will cope without their former talisman.

In place of Suarez, there's a new wildcard in Mario Balotelli. It remains to be seen whether Rodgers will throw him straight into the fray or start him on the bench.

Also interesting is how Rodgers fits the striker into the team. Though he played mainly on the left for Man City, the Italian is most effective in the centre, either alone or with a partner.

This could mean moving Daniel Sturridge to the right, which may not please him, or changing to a diamond formation to accommodate both strikers.

The temptation to start Balotelli must be high, given his track record of scoring on his full debut at Manchester City and the two Milans.

But his most productive phase for his former teams has always been in the first season. After that, his goal output tapers away significantly.

Perhaps that is why Liverpool gave him just a three-year deal. Rodgers may need convincing that Balotelli is the right man for the long haul.

tekmeng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 30, 2014.
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