Football: New season, same Liverpool

Former Lions striker Aleksandar Duric, ex-Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn and ex-Reds midfielder Danny Murphy at the Battle of the Masters pre-event press conference at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.
Former Lions striker Aleksandar Duric, ex-Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn and ex-Reds midfielder Danny Murphy at the Battle of the Masters pre-event press conference at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

As Reds struggle defensively, Murphy says they must learn to deal with set pieces better

Despite finishing fourth in the Premier League last season, defensive blemishes plagued Liverpool throughout the campaign.

They conceded 42 goals - 12 from set pieces, the joint-ninth highest tally alongside Everton and Burnley. This term, their fragility at the back threatens to remain. They let in eight goals in their three games prior to this morning's (Singapore time) League Cup third-round clash against Leicester.

They sit third - behind the two Manchester clubs - in goals scored (nine) in the league this season, but have conceded nine as well. Only West Ham and Everton (both 10) have let in more goals.

Former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy believes the issues are down to a lack of stability in the backline.

Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren form the club's No. 1 central defensive pairing, but the duo started only 19 of the Reds' 47 games together in all competitions last season.

"You can't build up relationships with players alongside you when you change the players all the time," said Murphy, 40, on the sidelines of the Battle of the Masters pre-event press conference yesterday. "The goalkeeper's changing, centre halves are changing, (Nathaniel) Clyne's been injured so all those things mean it's difficult to get an understanding and stability."

The Battle of the Masters will take place on Nov 11 with three teams participating: Singapore, Liverpool and Arsenal Masters.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp's persistence in using a zonal marking system has also made the Reds vulnerable during set pieces. Murphy, a pundit on BBC's Match of the Day who won the 2001 Treble of Uefa Cup, FA Cup and League Cup titles with the Reds, said that Liverpool need to get better at defending set plays.

"The goalkeeper needs to organise those around him, you need somebody in the back four commanding, leading the others - and that's been a problem," he said.

Nigel Winterburn, a member of the famous Arsenal back four that also included Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown, agreed that teams have to be well drilled in defending set pieces. And he believes that the Gunners can still do better despite conceding six goals from dead-ball situations in the league last season.

On zonal marking, the former left back said: "It's the three players along the six-yard box dotted from front to back where I think some of the problems appear. If the ball is delivered between those three guys, it's a question which one of those three attacks the ball. That's where the opposition wants to put the ball in - an area where it drops between the two zones - where you get the confusion of who is going to attack that ball defensively."

He believes in a mixture of systems in defence. He said: "If you come up against a team with a particularly strong header, I would say I would have one of my defenders go and man-mark him and still do a bit of zonal marking as well."

Despite Liverpool missing out on primary defensive target Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, Murphy argued that one player cannot be the club's defensive miracle.

"He is a better player than what Liverpool have, so that improves you defensively," he said. "He's great in the air, a good footballer and talker - you could argue Liverpool don't have too many of those. He would have been a big help in making them better. But on his own, no, it's (down to) a unit."

•Tickets for Battle of the Masters are available at sportshub.com.sg/sportshubtix and mastersfootball.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'New season, same Liverpool'. Print Edition | Subscribe