There were multiple factors at play in Liverpool's disappointing loss to Aston Villa on Saturday. Chief amongst them was the club's toothlessness in attack, but despite the volume of shots that failed to find their target, Brendan Rodgers is unconcerned about the quality of his players meant to set up and score goals. No, the issue is, still, the defense. Always the defense.
"It is still a problem," Rodgers confirmed. "We have to do better down the side of the pitch. We have to defend better, that’s where it starts. Just defend, don’t try and be clever, don’t try to play, just defend and don’t let them have the set-piece. Then, when the ball comes in the box, we lose the first duel. We were a bit unlucky with the ball bouncing off [Javier] Manquillo but we didn’t start well. They could have scored more from set-pieces. [Philippe] Senderos had a free header.
“I think you can see from the goal that we need that consistency. They lost their marker too easily in the box. When you let the opponent get the first contact that’s what can happen. It was unfortunate, and [Dejan] Lovren is a wonderful defender, strong and aggressive, but we have to do better in that situation. The worst-case scenario should be that when we have days when we’re not creative with the ball, then we get a point and move on. That’s the disappointing thing because we didn’t and it is important for us."
Liverpool's defense has been varying levels of problematic throughout Rodgers' tenure. Last season the club notably conceded 50 goals, a tally that was partially due to Rodgers' ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK philosophy that frequently left the defense exposed in favour of getting more players forward to score all the goals. Before that, the last time Liverpool had what was perceived as a solid, consistent defense was in 2011-12 under the guidance of the now-departed Steve Clarke.
Trying to find a way back to that consistency has been challenging. Rodgers reinforced the defense last year by bringing in Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Touré, and he reinforced again this year with the arrivals of Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, and an on-loan Javier Manquillo. The fullbacks have impressed early on, but the centre backs are still finding their footing. An injury to Martin Skrtel and a positional change for Lovren haven't helped Liverpool find consistency at the back, either.
We're only four games into a season with players who haven't yet played together regularly yet. That much is explicable. Rodgers has emphasized the importance of the entire team having a role to play in defending, but it will be his back four who bear the brunt of the criticism when things go awry. It will be important for them to get up to snuff in fairly short order, as another season spent playing such a dangerous defensive game in spite of the money spent on improving it will be tough to swallow.