When, following last Sunday's shootout with Swansea, Brendan Rodgers suggested Liverpool's defensive shortcomings were down to individuals making mistakes and absolved his tactics of any responsibility in the matter, a fair few here on the Liverpool Offside were left scratching their heads. Insisting it isn't a structural problem when the errors are being made by individuals asked to play a system that greatly increases the chance of making errors seemed, at best, misguided.
An imbalanced approach with only two primarily defensive players might be the correct one for this squad given the immense attacking talent on hand, but even if it is the right approach, it's one that does have its drawbacks. Namely making it far more likely the opposition will score and that the exposed centre halves will make more frequent mistakes. It's a swings and roundabouts approach that has helped Liverpool lead the league in scoring. And to be mid-table when it comes to goals against.
"We can be successful despite conceding goals the way we do because it’s a collective effort," Rodgers admitted today at his pre-Southampton press conference, backing off from what to many seemed an unfair singling out of the centre halves after an open match that saw Liverpool squeak through, their 4-3 win roughly the equivalent of a less swashbuckling side eking out a defensive 1-0. "The attack is the defence, too. We’re a team."
Other defenders might have better records than Liverpool's; better defensive stats. They also aren't generally being asked to play with the ball as often as Liverpool's, and they aren't being left as the only primarily defensive players on the pitch, given nominal screening by a player whose success or failure as a holding midfielder is measured by his offensive contributions. It's an approach equal parts fun and frustrating, but so far at least it's doing what matters: it's getting results.
"Ultimately, right now, it’s about winning," added Rodgers, confirming that for him, in the end it's not about goals scored or goals conceded—it's about the two taken together. "We’re building a platform for the team to go forward and press, and ultimately that meant we won. So it’s a collective thing. If we concede goals, it’s not one individual, or the defence, it’s the team, and as we grow as a team we will improve. There’s always areas for us to improve, but we’re showing character.
Looked at that way, a 4-3 win is no different from 1-0 or 2-1, and providing the platform for Liverpool's attacking stars to score as many as they do will at times lead to mistakes at the back. And just as a side that grinds out results in low-scoring games will occasionally be on the wrong side of the final score, so too will Liverpool's all out attack end badly every now and then. For better or worse, it's what this team, this squad, is. Elven games left—sit back and try to enjoy the ride.