Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers aiming to open case for Liverpool defence

By Simon Hughes

During a lengthy press conference ahead of Bournemouth's visit tonight, Brendan Rodgers made a subtle but swift defence against an accusation levelled at him since he took charge at Liverpool.

"I'm not dogmatic," he claimed, reasoning that the recruitment of Christian Benteke was proof of this, the striker providing "variety" for his team.

It was Liverpool's attack that failed them last season - the difference between competing for the title and qualifying for the Champions League, or finishing sixth.

If Benteke scores the goals that Mario Balotelli did not, Liverpool will be closer to where they want to be. Rodgers admitted that his team have to improve in other areas as well. In his three campaigns, Liverpool have conceded more than 40 goals a season, which compares favourably with their rivals. It is the manner in which they have conceded that builds pressure on the team and, indeed, the manager.

Rodgers has yet to discover a reliable centre-half partnership. Faith in Daniel Agger began to ebb when he left marking duties on Romelu Lukaku to Glen Johnson in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in November 2013, despite being given the responsibility from set pieces. Lukaku scored twice in the 3-3 draw, one from a corner.

Rodgers favoured Mamadou Sakho for the rest of that season but the Parisian has since been struck down by a series of muscle injuries and it would be understandable if Rodgers followed the old Liverpool way of thinking when it came to his selection - that an injured player was not really a player at all.

Ian St John tells a brutal story about Jack Whitham, who signed for Liverpool in 1970 under Bill Shankly. "Training for Jack was like jogging in between injuries," St John joked. "He was driving Shanks mad because he hated people who were like that. Finally he said one day to Jack, 'You, go up to the corner [where the pigsty was] and train up there. I don't want you to contaminate the rest of the team'."

Liverpool rejected a loan offer from AS Roma for Sakho. He might stay, but for the time being it seems Rodgers is planning to build his defence round Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren. "It's key in any team," the manager said, "having players that can play consistently for you, especially in a back five - that's vital." That includes Nathaniel Clyne, a right-back with rapid recovery and someone who can "smell the danger. We've got players that want to defend first and foremost, which is key to keeping clean sheets".

Liverpool's defence might be supported by the presence of Emre Can in a holding midfield role. "I think his passing range, his strength, his power - it's best in midfield," Rodgers said of Can.

The scorer of Liverpool's winner at Stoke, Philippe Coutinho, was then dropped from the Brazil squad for friendlies with Costa Rica and United States next month. Rodgers had talks with Coutinho after hearing of the decision. "It's hard to understand," Rodgers said. "He's a young player who made the team of the season in the most competitive league in the world. How he cannot be in the squad is incredible."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph