I once went out with a girl who was obsessed with communication, not the telephones and morse code type of communication -- although, in a bizarre turn of events, we did actually use both -- but rather the more esoteric, conceptual notion of sharing understanding. She was an earnest and bookish young woman, given to contemplation and analysis and, frankly, she could be terribly dour. I was, and remain, a daft romantic and so tragically, stereotypically male that I endured her daily dissecting of my psyche simply because she was gloriously beautiful and I thought myself to be in love. My amour continued to fret about the barriers between us, even during those delightful hours when there were quite literally none and she deemed me to be too truculent and a little defensive. In the end, proving her theory to have a whiff of veracity, I left, with few words, in order to defend my mental health.
My erstwhile lady-love would have had a field day analysing the defensive interaction in Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool team last season. Now there was a bunch of men with communication issues. With Glen Johnson singularly refusing to stop any cross ever, José Enrique going mentally AWOL at the most inopportune moments, Simon Mignolet displaying a kind of agoraphobia outside his own six yard box and Martin Skrtel being the biggest single threat to his own goalkeeper, these fellows were a study in almost comical ineptitude, shipping half a century of goals in the process.
If there is to be any attempt at taking a step forward toward the title in the campaign to come, the defensive fragility of the Redmen will have to be addressed. Some of us remain a little concerned about whether this is a potential chink in the manager's armour, as it seems to have been beyond him to rectify the situation as the season went on. Granted, there were some issues around injury but there did appear, at least, to be a lack of cohesiveness in the defensive unit and with Mignolet in his debut season and the experienced likes of Daniel Agger and the aforementioned Skrtel quiet by nature, the piercing organisational screech of Jamie Carragher was badly missed.
In a bold attempt to address the issue of leadership and interaction, Rodgers gambled massively in the transfer market with the £20m purchase of Dejan Lovren. Few, if any, consider the enormous sum to be reflective of the Croat's talent but if he can consistently show the kind of strength, composure and willingness to move his colleagues around that he did in his impressive debut, then perhaps the moaning about expenditure will abate.
Alongside Lovren on Sunday was another, equally impressive debutant, Javier Manquillo and they will be joined in training today by yet another arrival, the highly rated Alberto Moreno. Suddenly, the whole defensive landscape has changed and nailed-on first-teamers like Johnson, Agger, Mamadou Sakho and latterly, Jon Flanagan, will be under pressure for their place. Mignolet was notably louder in the match against Borussia Dortmund and Lovren was remarkably shouty and authoritative. This bodes well for the season to come and it is doubly encouraging to hear the thoughts of goalkeeping coach John Achterberg on the advances made in the way the team is going about their defending in training.
"It's very important for any defender and goalkeeper that communication works well between them," Achterberg told Liverpoolfc.com in an interview at Melwood. "They are already training together. If you play as a centre-half in any team, most rules are the same. You are just learning from each other and looking at the movement of each other to pick up the right positions. We know what to expect, what to do and how to handle different situations. Simon always needs to look for the right balance in the team; when we're attacking, we need to make sure the defence behind the ball is set up correctly. When we're defending, the combination of centre-halves squeeze up to the ball, close down and make sure that the gaps are small and tight.
"As a whole team, we want to improve defensively because obviously the fewer goals you concede the more chance you have to win games and the more clean sheets you keep," he continued. "That's what we'll be focusing on -- it's communication between the defence, Simon and the whole team from the front to the back. Hopefully we can improve. There are a lot of new players that have come into the club to help the team improve. I definitely think we will improve. We have already kept a few clean sheets in the recent games; we're improving that side of things by working in training."
The recording of only ten Premier League clean sheets in a campaign which saw Liverpool miss the title by a mere two points is a particularly galling statistic. Mignolet has proved himself to be perhaps the best shot stopper in the division but his distribution, especially from the foot has seen possession turned over far too regularly. As Achterberg has pointed out, there is a lot of onus on the goalkeeper in the system, and his reading of the game and execution of the correct pass will have to improve in the season ahead.
Similarly, Rodgers has gambled much on Lovren hitting the ground running and at least one of Manquillo and Moreno will likely feature heavily. For now, at least, Mamadou Sakho, a real favourite amongst many fans, looks to be marginalised but if Rodgers has shown anything, it's an ability to be flexible and admit when he's been wrong about a player. Jordan Henderson is effervescent jauntily skipping proof of this. This scribbler would still not be surprised to see Glen Johnson in a QPR kit as the season begins but they will haveto employ a team of bailiffs to tear a topless José Enrique, Playstation controller still in his clammy hand, away from Melwood. There's one Twitter-loving, selfie-posting chap who loves to communicate. I know the perfect girl for him.