Liverpool’s defense most at fault; But Lucas not good enough to keep Aquilani on the bench

Lucas Leiva is not the only problem, but he is not the answer

Liverpool struggled to their second consecutive 2-2 draw at Anfield against Machester City yesterday, not a disastrous result given their respective league positions. But that’s four dropped points at home for Manager Rafa Benitez’s men, who have little margin for error after so many early loses. Injuries have ravaged the squad, but the main culprit for these results is some pretty shoddy marking at the back. Even so, the play of Lucas Leiva in the midfield has left a lot to be desired, and after a very poor outing against City, there can be no excuse for him keeping Alberto Aquilani out of the starting XI.

Liverpool entered the game against City with some optimism that their injuries woes will soon be behind them. But they still lined up without Fernando Torres, Glen Johnson, Albert Riera, and Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun below full fitness or sharpnesss, not to mention Aquilani, who has yet to start a game since his summer transfer from Roma. Then Benitez was forced to make two substitutions in the first half due to injury, when Daniel Agger and Ryan Babel each came off in the first 15 minutes. Despite scoring the game tieinng goal, Babel’s replacement Benayoun could not go the rest of the game and had to be brought off too.

But even in spite of these injury problems, Liverpool should have picked up full points against both Birmingham and City, giving up poor goals on set pieces that never should be allowed from a Liverpool defense. After scoring his first goal in a Liverpool shirt, Martin Skrtel inexplicably let Emmanuel Adabayor wander free at the penalty spot at a City corner and the Togo striker made him pay with a well-taken header into the corner. There was no one at the post for Liverpool, a defensive strategy that is then dependent on using the extra markers to stick close to the attacks to prevent good looks at goal. Regardless of whether its zonal or man marking, there is no rational set piece defensive system that would not account for Adabayor in the middle of the penalty box. That’s poor execution.

City’s second goal came after Shawn Wright-Philips easily turned Sotirios Kyrgiakos and slipped a well-weighted cross to Stephen Ireland, again alone at the penalty spot. Skrtel again failed to pick up Ireland, but this error was not the worst lapse on the play. Lucas was with Ireland near the top of the arc, but as Wright-Philips sliced through the defense, he inexplicably stopped tracking Ireland’s run and the City midfielder found himself in acres of space right in front of goal. Even if it could be argued that guarding that area is a central defenders responsibility, how can you just let an opposing player run free like that right through the heart of your defense?

But it was Lucas’ pathetic attempt that cause the most frustration when he found himself in a similar position deep into injury time when a goal would have won the game for Liverpool and given the club a much needed boost. Lucas had a free header in the six yard box and some how managed to put the ball out for a City throw in. That goal would have meant far more than just two points in the table that would have moved Liverpool into the top four, it could have been the spark the team needs as it struggles through what it hopes is the last stages of its injury crisis.

Lucas recieves a lot of criticism, some of it over the top, but I have never understood what he does on the pitch that keeps him in the lineup. He doesn’t pass well, he doesn’t create chances for other players, he doesn’t take chances when he gets them, his positional play is poor, and he doesn’t defend well or break up the play. Even when he is at his best, like he was against Man U in the vital 2-0 win, he simply doesn’t have the ability to change or dominate the game.

Aquilani can. We don’t know whether he will be a great Premier League player, but all accounts of his ability point to a promising player who can distribute with precision and attack with skill. That’s what Liverpool needs in its lineup right now. Aquilani made his debut in the Carling Cup a month ago, got in his first Premier League game two weeks ago, and has now been training for at least six week. Its time for him to play and its inexcusable for Benitez to stick with Lucas.


2 Responses

  1. Interesting post, though I do think that is being a little harsh on Lucas who has improved a lot this season in his performances and is only one of a whole team which has been really disappointing.

    Do you think Aquilani will play as deep as beside Mascherano in midfield? To be honest, I haven’t watched him play but what I have heard is that Aquilani is more likely to play closer to the strikers than Lucas would.

    One thing is certain, Liverpool have to stop giving up leads or any of the creative work done by the new Italian signing will be for nothing.

    • Chris –

      As you can tell, I’m pretty down on Lucas. It is true that he has improved and he has played well at times this year. But he is simply not a game changer, and Aquilani could be.

      I think he would play in a more advanced position that Alonso, and that could cause defensive problems when compared to last year’s team. But Lucas gets forward a lot and I don’t find his defensive play that compelling. Anyway, I would rather sort out Liverpool’s defensive problems with defenders, rather than taking away an attacking weapon especially with Gerrard and Torres below full strength.

      If they are going to pull out of it quickly, Liverpool have to be ruthless. I’m afraid that Lucas and Skrtel should be on very thin ice.


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