People may have questions about Liverpool’s goal scoring record and their top four ambitions, but there is one thing that is clear for all to see: Liverpool are the top dogs when it comes to defending.
When a relegation threatened team like Blackburn, currently sitting in 19th place, have managed to find the net more times (23) than Liverpool (20) and yet sit 13 places behind them, you would be hard pressed to find a better illustration of the importance of a good goalkeeper and solid defence.
The fact Liverpool has been creating enough chances in the majority of games they’ve played, to score more goals than they have and are playing some good passing football (5685 successful passes, only 5 teams having a higher number) is a contributing factor to their defensive record. The more you have the ball and the more the opposition is defending, the lower the risk of conceding.
Having the best defensive record in the league is testament to a team that has been well coached and defends as a whole consistently. Manchester City has scored more goals than anyone this season. And when City went to Anfield the team only managed a meager 3 shots out of 7 on target.
Players are obviously the key components in any records set on the pitch: Lucas, before his injury, was the League’s top tackler with 68 successful tackles and a 76% success rate. The Skrtel/Agger partnership has conceded just 3 goals in 7 matches and has kept 4 clean sheets in the process. Enrique was a shrewd signing, solid defensively, good going forward and the solution to a left back problem that Liverpool had suffered for years. On the other side there’s Glen Johnson, the man who offers a lot going forward and his strengths in all defensive areas i.e. ground duels, aerial duels, interceptions and so on, is not as bad defensively as many people make out. Put them all together in front of a keeper who is no stranger to the Golden Glove and you have the foundation of what is proving to be fortress.
However one of the most influtenial figures in Liverpool’s defense is not on the squad list.
When Steve Clarke was appointed Dalglish’s first team coach in Janurary 2011, Liverpool had conceded 27 goals in 20 games. In the remaining 18 fixtures while he was assistant manager and defensive coach, they conceded only 17. An obvious improvement in a short period of time. This season, the fruits of Clarke’s defensive work are more obvious: 13 goals conceded after 16 games.
Clarke played as a defender for St. Mirren and later Chelsea. He went on to coach at Newcastle and then perhaps in a defining period of his career, was promoted from youth team coach to assistant manager of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in 2004, where he won two Premier League titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups. Jose Mourinho is renowned for his defensive and counter attacking style and to say Clarke picked up some invaluable insights at his side would be a safe bet, to say the least.
Having a well decorated and experienced manager, who has a god like status at the club, reinstated was something that brought immeasurable joy to many Liverpool fans. But as the saying goes, “a sign of a good leader, is good delegation” and surely in Steve Clarke Liverpool has an assistant manager whose past and current record make him a delegation by Dalglish that few would argue against.
Though Liverpool are clearly rising from the ashes of the past two seasons and currently have the best defensive record in the league, they have a few more areas to correct before they can realize their ambitions. As Dalglish himself has recently said, “Some of the smallest steps are the biggest ones to take.”
Liverpool had a much welcomed victory against Aston Villa over the weekend, bringing them to 6th place, equal on points with Arsenal. However the win might not be that convincing for some. Aston Villa had conceded more goals from corners than any other team, Liverpool having won more corners than any other team prior to the game. Both Liverpool goals coming from corners was no surprise.
With the ambitions Liverpool Football Club have, they cannot solely rely on goals from set pieces, which won’t come as easily as they did against Villa. Defense is the foundation of any successful team and Liverpool are schooling the league in how it’s done. Along with City, Liverpool are the only team not to lose at home. However they have dropped 10 points at Anfield with 5 draws this season. With those extra 10 points they would be sitting in 2nd place right now.
However, ifs and buts don’t win trophies. Liverpool will have to be more ruthless and have a higher turnover of goals from open play if they are to build upon a strong foundation and aim for a Champions League place and more. Only QPR (35%), Villa (36%) and Stoke (37%) have a worse shooting accuracy percentage than Liverpool (40%) who have one of the worst shots to goals ratio (9%) in the league.
Liverpool fans are hoping for a top four finish. It’s only a lack of clinical finishing that’s holding them back.