When Liverpool played AS Roma at Boston’s Fenway Park in a pre-season friendly over the summer, the weather could best be described as sultry. Boston is a workingman’s city, full of the blue collar and the white collar, and people are tired at 9 o’clock on a 90 plus degree Wednesday with high humidity. The football on display was decent enough for the supporters, but the boys wearing Steven Gerrard shirts in front of me were playing Tetris on their mothers’ iPhones by the 65th minute, and the friend I brought along with me was stuck on her Instagram account for the majority of the second half.
As the game wound down, Roma’s goal came all of a sudden. It kind of just…happened. Nobody saw it coming. Even the players in white looked surprised that they wouldn’t have to take pens at Fenway just to get their hands on a meaningless trophy.
The set piece came on the other side of the pitch, so I was looking at it from afar. For the Reds, it was a disappointing, but nowhere near the end of the world. The display was not abysmal and there did not appear to be cause for concern. When my friend half-heartedly asked me how the team did, I replied, “Fine. It’s just a set piece goal. Rodgers will figure that out in training and they’ll be fine.”
But here the Reds are defending set plays against Aston Villa…
West Ham United…
Middlesbrough in the League Cup…
And FC Basel in the Champions League.
It is safe to say that I may have been wrong.
The defending on corners, long throw-ins, and free kicks has been atrocious form Liverpool, so the question becomes, “Why?”
From the above GIFs, we know this is not a man marking vs. zonal marking debate. Over the past few months, Rodgers’ has mixed both systems to adapt to the number of bodies the opposition sticks in the box, which is what most coaches who don’t play a straight zonal system would do.
The corner kicks I have seen the Reds take are mainly man-marking with a player at the edge of the six-yard box protecting against the short corner, and then one player on a post, and its usually the far one. Some would argue that the man on the post is a wasted body, as it could be put on the six to clear the ball, but that is not the problem for Liverpool.
Concerning set pieces, Gerrard said after the loss to Basel, “I thought we were too soft all over the pitch. I thought they wanted it more, which is very disappointing,” he is referring to the inability of his teammates to get “goal-side” of their opponents on set pieces. For the center-backs, Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho, each seems content to let their man between them and the ball, which is a no-no that every footballer is taught at a young age. The issue occurs against teams that set up for corner kicks differently as well.