Football: Liverpool's Reds boast stronger backbone thanks to new boys

Despite being only 18 years old, Liverpool left-back Joe Gomez (far left) has been one of the outstanding players for the Reds so far this season with his calm defending.
Despite being only 18 years old, Liverpool left-back Joe Gomez (far left) has been one of the outstanding players for the Reds so far this season with his calm defending.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Liverpool are a long way from the free-scoring side who almost won the English Premier League two seasons ago, but their new-look defence is providing plenty of encouragement for manager Brendan Rodgers ahead of today's clash with West Ham.

With no goals conceded in their opening three matches, the Reds can feel a degree of confidence before a home game against West Ham, who have not won at Anfield since 1964.

The arrivals of Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez have done much to strengthen the full-back positions, while James Milner has given the midfield a solid look.

Put together, they have eased some of the pressure on Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren in the centre of defence, with Clyne and Gomez especially impressive.

"The pressing element of that defensive organisation is crucial to attacking fluidity," Rodgers said during a press conference yesterday.

"We are doing extra sessions on every aspect of our defending. We are putting in an awful lot of work."

Roberto Firmino could make a full home debut today, while captain Jordan Henderson remains in doubt with a foot injury. If he fails to recover, then Milner will retain the captaincy, with Emre Can playing alongside him in midfield.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic believes Diafra Sakho is prepared to return, despite the Senegalese having been arrested twice this month.

Sakho was bailed earlier this week following his denial that he made threats to kill as well as intimidate, after being accused of assault three days before the club began their league campaign with a 2-0 victory at Arsenal.

It has been a testing week for Bilic, with Ecuadorian forward Enner Valencia offering him a personal apology to go with that issued in a club statement after he criticised the club's response to his ongoing knee treatment.

With Mauro Zarate also injured and Andy Carroll not yet ready to return from his own knee problem until after the international break, Bilic is keen for Sakho to return to his ranks.

"I spoke to the player of course about that other issue and he looks bright," he said. "He's good in the head and we need players in those positions."

The manager himself had to deal with news yesterday that former Reds boss Rafael Benitez was Hammers owner David Sullivan's preferred choice, but the Spaniard eventually joined Real Madrid.

"Rafa Benitez was within three hours of signing for us," Sullivan told the London Evening Standard.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Reds boast stronger backbone thanks to new boys'. Print Edition | Subscribe