When Luis Suarez was dealt to FC Barcelona this summer, many wondered how Liverpool would be able to compensate for the loss of offense regularly supplied by the contentious Uruguayan. If Sunday’s Premier League opener against Southampton showed anything, it’s that offense may be the least of coach Brendan Rodgers’ worries at Anfield.
While the Reds eked out a 2-1 victory before the home folks, plenty of examination should be expected by Rodgers and his coaching staff. One look at the tape will reveal that for the balance of the second half, Liverpool appeared disjointed and destined for a disappointing result against Ronald Koeman’s reworked side.
Daniel Sturridge eventually bailed the Reds out of trouble by tapping in the game-winner with just over 11 minutes left in regulation. Even then, Liverpool had to survive a post by Morgan Schneiderlin in the final minutes to escape with a full three points and a sizable sense of relief.
While the Reds certainly have the weapons to be dangerous on offense with Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard, and Jordan Henderson anchoring the attack, Liverpool’s biggest challenge may again be a defense that allowed 50 goals in 38 league matches in 2013-2014.
Realizing his need for better defense, Rodgers went out and signed Dejan Lovren, while receiving Javier Manquillo on loan from Atletico Madrid to help Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger shore things up in front of netminder Simon Mignolet.
The results against Southampton left plenty to be desired as the quick and precise passing combinations provided by Nathaniel Clyne, James Ward-Prowse and especially Dusan Tadic left the Reds scrambling for the balance of the afternoon. If not for a costly miss by Steven Davis and some good goaltending from Mignolet, Liverpool could have come out of the afternoon without a point in their home opener.
It seems Liverpool’s progress as a contender in the Premier League will again depend on a defense that was leaky at best last season and still appears vulnerable heading into this campaign. For his part, Mignolet appears more than capable of holding down the fort between the pipes.
The pressure thus falls on Rodgers’ defensive crew to pick up their play and help keep opposing offenses at bay. Last season, Liverpool averaged 1.31 goals against in Premier League action, culminating in a nine-minute, three-goal meltdown against Crystal Palace that doomed the Reds in their quest for a first domestic league since 1989-1990.
Plenty of time still remains for Liverpool’s defense to improve, and if the Reds can tighten up in the back, there’s no reason to think Rodgers and company can’t push for another spot in the UEFA Champions League along with that coveted Premier League title.
Until the defense improves, however, Liverpool will be fighting an uphill battle, and Sunday’s game showed the Reds that there’s still plenty of work to do in that regard.