Liverpool’s defensive record often is cited as the main reason why it fell agonizingly short of winning last season’s Premier League title.
The Reds finished runner-up behind Manchester City, despite conceding 50 goals in 38 league games in 2013-14. It was the league’s ninth-best defensive total (out of 20 teams) and Liverpool’s worst showing at the back in 15 years. Strengthening the defense was one of the club’s chief aims during this past offseason, and manager Brendan Rodgers has wielded his checkbook in order to do so.
Rodgers bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton for £20 million ($34 million) in late July. The Croatian center back is expected to provide leadership and a calming influence on Liverpool’s back line. Lovren, 25, also is an aerial threat who can score goals from set pieces.
Lovren joins a back line that includes many holdovers from last season. Liverpool will play with four defenders most games in 2014-15, but Rodgers is not afraid to switch to a three-back system temporarily. We’ll look at them by position below:
Left back remains a problem position for Liverpool. Jon Flanagan performed well there toward the end of last season, but Rodgers is looking for an upgrade before the transfer window closes on Aug. 31. Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno has been a target for some time, but the clubs are struggling to agree on a transfer fee.
Glen Johnson could start Liverpool’s first game of the season (against Southampton on Aug. 17) at left back. Johnson played the position in Liverpool’s final two preseason games, which suggests he could be a temporary solution. However, like Flanagan, Johnson is naturally a right back.
Jose Enrique once was Liverpool’s first-choice left back, but injuries wrecked his 2013-14 season. Enrique hoped to win back the job this summer, but his absence from the starting lineup in recent exhibitions could mean he failed to re-claim it.
Flanagan, 21, and Jack Robinson, 20, are third and fourth on the depth chart (respectively). Barring a change in circumstances, most of their games will come with the reserves, U-21s or on potential loan spells.
There’s a high level of competition at right back. Either Johnson or new signing Javier Manquillo likely will start against Southampton.
Manquillo, 20, joined the Reds last week from Atletico Madrid on a two-year loan deal and started the Reds’ win over Borrusia Dortmund. The Spanish youth international could soon displace Johnson, whose contract expires after this season, as Rodgers’ preferred right back.
Flanagan appears to be third in the pecking order, but fit-again Martin Kelly, 24, made a strong case for that rank with steady performances during preseason.
Dejan Lovren is the most expensive defender Liverpool has ever bought. Barring injury, suspension or sudden decline in form, he’ll play in the games that matter. Lovren’s signing pushes everyone else down the pecking order, which makes the competition for places fiercer than it has been in recent seasons.
Martin Skrtel, 29, saw a lot of action in preseason. The Slovakian looks to have secured the starting job at the other center back position.
Mamadou Sakho, 24, looks like the first option off the bench at this point. The France international will push Skrtel and Lovren for playing time throughout the campaign.
The futures of veterans Kolo Toure, 33, and (vice-captain) Daniel Agger, 29, are uncertain. One or both could be gone by September, as they are keen to play regular games at this stage of their careers, and they may not be able to hold positions in this Liverpool team.
Kelly could prove to be useful in the middle — especially against weaker teams. Tiago Ilori, 21, and Sebastian Coates, 23, round out Liverpool’s youthful corps of center backs.
Editor’s note: This is the second of our position-by-position breakdowns on Liverpool’s 2014-15 squad.
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com