EighteenAndFive

In-depth and Intelligent Views on Liverpool FC & Football in General

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Liverpool Reborn Under Kenny Dalglish: What a Difference a Year Makes


As referee Lee Probert called time on the game at Anfield on Saturday, Liverpoolmoved back to the top of the—admittedly ridiculously early—Premier League table for the first time since the late title charge in May 2009.

The Reds, now under the stewardship of Kenny Dalglish, clinched a convincing 3-1 win over Bolton Wanderers at the weekend, showing signs of some sumptuous play all over the field during the entire 90 minutes, a throwback to the very best of the action seen under King Kenny the first time around.

An opening day draw against Sunderland, a win against top-four rivals Arsenal and a hammering of the much-praised side of Owen Coyle have given Liverpool their best start to a season since 1994, when the club won all of their first three matches.

Contrast that to last season when, after the same number of games at the end of August, the Reds—”guided” by Roy Hodgson—had drawn with the Gunners, were heavily beaten against Manchester City and laboured to a barely-deserved 1-0 home win over West Brom, leaving them in an uninspiring 13th place, with a minus-two goal difference. Liverpool’s current goal difference is four in credit—last season, it took until February for the statistic to stop being a negative figure.

Even this early on in the season a year ago, Liverpool were already showing signs of not being all-well, as a static looking system was being put in place with ill-fitting personnel; not to mention the transfer shenanigans which saw Christian Poulsen come in to the club to all-round misgivings and Paul Konchesky arrive to downright dismay.

At the same time, midfield enforcer Javier Mascherano was refusing to play against Manchester City in an attempt to force through a move to Barcelona, which he managed shortly afterwards.

Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina were persuaded to stay for another season, supposedly, with the insertion of release fee clauses in their contracts, but it was far from pretty viewing on the pitch, and few could have imagined that Hodgson was the man to turn things around, even at that early stage.

Indeed, it was to be another half a dozen league matches and almost two full months before Hodgson would guide the Reds to another victory, during which time the likes of Sunderland, Northampton and Blackpool all visited Anfield and left without being beaten, or even particularly troubled at times.

On the 17th October, Liverpool were soundly beaten by local rivals Everton, a result which left the Reds in the utterly embarrassing position of 19th in the Premier League, only off the bottom on goal difference. The sounds of discontent were audible on the club forums, in the stands and in every pub and social gathering place up and down the country where Kopites could be found.

The malaise continued for another two months before enough was enough; Hodgson was dismissed after an abysmal defeat at Ewood Park left Liverpool back in 13th, only four points above the drop zone and a massive 20 points behind the league leaders Manchester City after little more than half the season.

Then, in came Kenny Dalglish.

The turnaround was not, as some would like to imagine, immediate. It took until Dalglish’s fourth match in charge to record his first victory, but from then on, it was almost plain sailing until the end of the season. No doubt helped by a perceived lack of pressure on the club, as it was almost impossible to qualify for European competition, the team played with a freedom and attacking intent which was refreshing to the point of being shocking after the turgid, unimaginative and linear nonsense which was given by the same set of players under the previous manager.

The big test, everybody said, would come in the summer and during the new campaign.

Could Dalglish bring in the right players, spend money wisely and mould another Liverpool team to grace Anfield and bring pleasure to the fans?

It’s three games into the season.

We’ll make no judgements at this point on what Kenny and Liverpool can or cannot achieve this season, but if the start is anything to go by, then Liverpool have a great chance of at least breaking their way back into the top four; surely the main aim of everyone in the club for this term and something which seemed impossible to imagine this time a year ago.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool—generally seen as the six challengers to battle it out between themselves for the top four places.

Given the transfer market activity and start to the season that both Manchester teams have had, it seems fair to accept they will both be in the running for honours come the end of the season, while Chelsea, given their array of attacking talent, should definitely be up there even with a new manager.

North London? We’ve seen today what work both teams have on to get themselves going, but neither can be ruled out.

But early on in the season, and Liverpool already have a significant lead on both teams: six points ahead of Arsenal and seven ahead of Tottenham, albeit they have a game in hand.

Though it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things at this stage, we have heard season after season how Liverpool are playing catch-up with the top sides from early on in the season—this time, it is the other way round, and it can only benefit the team from Merseyside.

Liverpool have seven points after three games; last season, it took NINE league matches to reach the same tally despite playing five matches at home in that time, including two newly promoted sides.

Whether the good start can be maintained and players can give performances to compare with that of Saturday over the entire season remains to be seen.

But for what he’s already done in his short time back at the club, and especially when compared to what came before him, Kenny Dalglish deserves every ounce of leeway, respect and backing that supporters can give him in terms of team selections, transfers and tactics.

Liverpool are in the top four already, only a month into the new Premier League season.

If in nine months’ time, they are still there, Dalglish will have completed one of the most impressive turnarounds in fortune that the Premier League will have seen in years—and Liverpool can begin planning again on how best to compete with the very best in Europe.

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Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard: Which Position Best Suits Both Player and Team?


Three games into the new 2011-12 season and Kenny Dalglish has fielded eight midfielders already—nine if you count Dirk Kuyt—as Liverpool’s new-bought squad depth shows early signs of paying dividends, allowing for several changes in personnel and tactics without sacrificing strength, balance or quality.

But someone has been missing off the list of midfielders who have had game time already—and I don’t mean Christian Poulsen.

Liverpool club captain Steven Gerrard, out of action since early March after having groin operations and suffering a setback because of infection, should now be just a matter of weeks away from making a competitive return to wearing the Red shirt.

Already in light training and integrating with the squad, Gerrard will be taking a keen interest on both new signings and first team veterans; sizing up who is having a good impact and who needs to step up to the mark.

Looking, perhaps, to see where he will fit back into the team.

Throughout his career Gerrard has played in almost every position for Liverpool except in goal—I think centre back might be missing from the list too, but that’s about it.

But which position brings out the best in Steven Gerrard?

And, more importantly, will that position also best benefit the team?

We take a look here at where Gerrard could fit back into the side, whose place he is most likely to take and how he will set about lifting the rest of the players to higher performance levels.

Position: Central Midfield

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1 and variations

Player Most Likely to Replace: Charlie Adam

Gerrard is traditionally “seen” as a central midfielder, though in truth has only started around a third of his total career matches in this position.

Though early on in his Reds’ career he was a great box-to-box player with his range of passing, shooting, tackling and physical levels, Gerrard has gradually moved further forward as he has gotten older and never really—either through lack of training/game time or of aptitude—developed the necessary skills to be a true top-class central midfielder such as positioning in the defensive third and being able to track late opposition runs from deep.

He’s certainly more than capable of holding his own in the position as all the above traits still more than apply, but is sure to need a full-on defensive midfielder alongside him such as Lucas Leiva.

He can be a great threat for the Reds from deep positions, but against good opponents must remain wary of his defensive responsibilities if he is to regularly play this position. For this reason in a true 4:4:2 I remain sceptical of Gerrard’s worth in central midfield; with nobody else to link up play between midfield and defence he would be straining to get forward to fulfil that role, which at the same time would leave his partner in the middle open to counter attacks and overloading.

Position: Right Wing

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1, 4:4:2

Player Most Likely to Replace: Dirk Kuyt/Jordan Henderson

With Stewart Downing having seemingly sewn up one spot of any attacking quartet, and with Luis Suarez likely to have another one at every available chance, Henderson and Kuyt have, in the early part of the season, looked in more or less direct competition with each other for a starting berth.

Both played against Arsenal but once Gerrard comes back it will likely be one or the other—at the most.

Gerrard enjoyed his most prolific spell in a Liverpool shirt when playing from the right side of the midfield and, while not his preferred choice of position, he can still offer certain attributes which will prove valuable to others in the team.

From a wide position in a 4:2:3:1 he will have ample time to roam infield, leaving the likes of Martin Kelly or Glen Johnson to overlap into the spaces he leaves, while his delivery from the channels has always been exemplary, something which would no doubt appeal to whoever starts up front for the Reds.

However, is this the position which makes the best use of him? Gerrard does not have the trickery or acceleration to beat players on the flank; he is fast but not lightning fast in tight spaces and uses power and audacity to beat opponents in the middle of the park. From a wide position Gerrard finds himself on the margins of the game at times and, becoming frustrated, looks to come infield more often than Dalglish might like, narrowing the game considerably.

In a 4:4:2 this would become more problematic as he could conceivably leave his right-back behind him without any adequate cover.

Many people would prefer to put Gerrard out wide to allow as many other strong attackers from the squad into the team as possible—but personally speaking, I’m not one of them.

Position: Left Wing

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1, 4:4:2

Player Most Likely to Replace: Dirk Kuyt/Jordan Henderson

Playing from the opposite flank, Gerrard is still likely to take either Kuyt or Henderson’s place as Downing would simply switch to the right, allowing both players to cut in on their favoured foot.

Gerrard has played this role occasionally for both club and country, but again the obvious tendency is to drift infield as he will naturally face that direction to be able to receive the ball to his right foot.

Cutting in from the left Gerrard would pose a severe threat to any opposition goal, but it is unlikely we will see too much of him in this position.

Position: Second Striker

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1 and variations

Player Most Likely to Replace: Jordan Henderson/Raul Meireles/Andy Carroll

A natural goal threat, Gerrard excels at getting beyond the striker and providing excellent support in and around the penalty box. A good finisher and aggressive in attacking positions, Gerrard almost looks like a centre forward at times.

He does have a tendency to neglect his back-tracking duties when playing this role and can leave the team a little weak in midfield at times, but the obvious benefits he brings to the team when in this role are huge.

Whether Kuyt, Carroll or Suarez are playing as the striker, Gerrard can link well with all of them and allow others to come into the game with his range of passing and willingness to get involved in combination plays.

He suffered in this role during the poor 2009-10 season as a result of lack of service to himself and Fernando Torres; a huge burden of play will fall on the shoulders of Charlie Adam should Gerrard play this position with regularity.

Personal Preference:

I have little doubt; I prefer to see Gerrard centrally.

An advanced role is where I hope to see him most—dead centre in a 4:2:3:1 is the ideal position for Steven Gerrard and, assuming the supply line to him remains open, where he is most devastating.

Against weaker opposition or at home where Liverpool intends on going for more goals, a central midfield role is certainly not out of the question assuming, as mentioned previously, Lucas or someone similar is in there as well.

A front four of Downing, Gerrard, Suarez and Carroll certainly appeals to me—as would swapping in any of Kuyt, Meireles or (when in form) Maxi or Henderson for any of those players.

One thing is for sure: wherever he ends up playing, Steven Gerrard will remain one of the most important and best players lining up in Red each week.

Karl Matchett offers live Premier League text commentary; next match: Chelsea vs. Norwich City (Saturday 27th August, 3pm UK/10am ET) plus updates of every Saturday match.
Also live text commentary and analysis of Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City (Sunday 28th August, 1:30pm UK/8:30am ET).
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Arsenal vs Liverpool: Five Key Battles for Saturday’s Big Premier League Match


Arsenal and Liverpool will do battle this weekend on Saturday in the first of the big clashes in this season’s Premier League. Last season these two teams fought out an exciting battle that culminated in two late penalties—the second of which came in the 98th minute, an equaliser from Dirk Kuyt after Robin van Persie scored a few minutes earlier—and a 1-1 draw.

Since then, both sides have had something of an eventful summer, for differing reasons.

While Liverpool have embarked on a spending spree to bring in the likes of Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique; Arsenal have seen their captain, Cesc Fabregas, depart for Barcelona and playmaker Samir Nasri is likely to follow suit in exiting forManchester City, the landing point of Gael Clichy.

Forward Gervinho has been brought in, but will be suspended for the match on Saturday, as will midfielder Alex Song. Defenders Johan Djourou and Keiran Gibbs departed the mid-week fixture injured, leaving the Gunners with a real shortage at the back.

Liverpool, for their part, will be missing right-back Glen Johnson and long-term absentee Steven Gerrard, but everybody else has recovered from their knocks and Dalglish has an almost full squad to choose from.

Here we take a look at the five key battles on the pitch that will have a big say on the outcome of the game.

 

1: Andy Carroll vs. Laurent Koscielny

After a difficult start to his career where he was sent off on his Arsenal debut (against Liverpool, ironically), Laurent Koscielny proved to be a decent acquisition for the Gunners. He excelled in leading the defence to press high up the pitch, something which could not be said for fellow centre-back signing Squillaci.

However, he is not dominant aerially and is also prone to standing off physical players—something Andy Carroll took full advantage of when playing against the Frenchman for old club Newcastle.

Recovering from injury last season when the Reds took on Arsenal, he did not have the impact he would have liked. Expect something very different this time around as Liverpool will look to press the advantage of having the powerful threat of Carroll to hold the ball up.

With any set pieces, Carroll is likely to try to attach himself near to Koscielny in an attempt to beat him in the air.

 

2: Aaron Ramsey vs. Lucas Leiva

Following the departure of Cesc Fabregas, the suspension of Alex Song and the likely absence of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey is likely to be the focal central midfielder for the Gunners again.

Possessing a good range of passing and an energetic style of play, Ramsey is more than just a promising midfielder at this stage. He is far more likely than either Wilshere or Cesc to get involved in play inside the opposition penalty area and try to score as well as contribute to the link-up play for which the Gunners have become renowned.

For this reason above all others, Lucas Leiva will be a key player for Liverpool against Arsenal; he is the one player capable of tracking opponents’ runs through midfield, is a good tackler and is an expert at positioning himself well to pick up second-balls.

 

3: Arsenal Left-Back vs. Liverpool Right Midfield

Probably the one area for either team which could be filled by different people at this point; most of the starting eleven for Arsenal and Liverpool could probably be predicted but the left-back slot for the Gunners and the right side of Liverpool’s midfield/attack is very much up for grabs.

Following Clichy’s departure Keiran Gibbs stepped up last weekend to start the season at left-back but suffered an injury against Udinesein mid-week, leading to Thomas Vermaelen switching to that position from the centre. However after Djourou was almost immediately replaced after himself replacing Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson came on for his Arsenal debut after joining the club from Charlton in the summer. The youngster is a highly rated prospect but is untested in the Premier League until now and Arsene Wenger needs to decide if he is to be risked in such a big game. Of course, Liverpool faced a similar situation last season in this fixture and came up trumps after Jack Robinson replaced Fabio Aurelio to such good effect.

Armand Traore is the other left back on the Arsenal books at present.

For Liverpool, the right midfielder could be seen as a key player regardless of who is picked for Arsenal at left back; Jenkinson’s inexperience, Vermaelen being out of his primary position or Traore’s relative lack of game time for the Gunners recently could all mean that the Reds have an opportunity to exploit that area of the pitch.

Jordan Henderson started on the right against Sunderland on the opening day but was replaced around the hour mark by regular right-sider Dirk Kuyt. Henderson obviously offers good delivery and stamina on that side of the pitch but is certain to drift inside to a more central position too, while Kuyt will offer perhaps a little more width and better service in terms of getting into the Arsenal box to link up with the front men.

A third option—one which is perhaps likely to be seen at some point during the game even if not from the beginning—is to stick Stewart Downing out on the right flank and let him run at the Arsenal left-back as often as possible, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.

 

4: Robin van Persie vs. Pepe Reina

As always, Arsenal’s main goal threat is highly likely to come in the form of newly-installed official skipper Robin van Persie.

Last season he beat Reina from the penalty spot while in the reverse fixture Reina spilled an apparently straight-forward catch into his own net.

On his day van Persie is a world-beater and his strike rate in the second half of last season was one of the few bright spots for the Gunners as their season collapsed around them. Regardless of who is paired at centre back for Liverpool—Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger should be again after the latter recovered from a knock—it is likely that the Dutchman will get at least one opportunity on goal and it is then that Pepe Reina will be called upon.

As consistent and excellent a performer as can be found between the sticks in the Premier League, Reina is hugely important for Liverpool and is adept in his shot-stopping as he is in his organisation of the defence.

Thwarting van Persie for ninety minutes will go a long way towards helping Liverpool to three big points.

 

5: Jose Enrique vs. Theo Walcott

Liverpool’s newest recruit, Spanish left-back Jose Enrique, started against Sunderland last week just hours after signing from Newcastle United and put in an encouraging performance on his debut.

On Saturday he is likely to start again and will come up against Theo Walcott who should come into the starting eleven in place of the suspended Gervinho.

Walcott will of course offer a whole load of pace and will look to get forward and into the area at every opportunity, something which Jose Enrique will have to try to turn on its head to have his best impact for the club.

If Liverpool can have possession and Jose Enrique can get forward himself Walcott will be forced backwards to cover and be kept away from goal, something which will benefit Liverpool immensely.

Another advantage that Jose Enrique should offer Liverpool is his great pace which should nullify that of even Walcott who will usually use that attribute above all others to gain an edge over his opponents.

 

Predicting the Outcome:

You have to go all the way back to 1999-2000 season and a Titi Camara winner for the last time Liverpool managed to beat Arsenal on their home ground in the league—Highbury, as it was then—but the Reds will surely feel they have a massive chance to put an end to that run this weekend.

Arsenal are weakened through suspension, injury and having sold or nearly sold two key players; some fans are far from giving their unconditional support to a manager they feel has failed to strengthen the team in key areas and the Gunners are really going to come under scrutiny this season—rightly or wrongly, its going to happen—every time they fail to win a game, mainly as they are seen as the ‘easiest’ team to knock out of the top four spots.

Liverpool on the other hand are by-and-large happy with their summer dealings and in full backing of their manager and will take a decent travelling support to the Emirates Stadium.

They also have one other wild-card who wasn’t mentioned in the key battles: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan magician will look to move in and out of spaces between Arsenal’s midfield and defence and it is here that the absence of Alex Song will be felt most keenly for Arsenal.

Despite all their apparent weaknesses however, Arsenal are never an easy fixture and if they start well and get into their passing game without Liverpool pressing them quickly they have the pace, movement and fire-power in Rosicky, van Persie, Walcott and Arshavin to really test the Liverpool defence who will still be getting put together one piece at time; Kelly and Flanagan will likely battle it out for the right back spot and Glen Johnson has yet to return.

It is sure to be an eventful game and will throw up some fascinating tactical battles all over the pitch—but I am firmly backing Liverpool to end an eleven-and-a-half year winless streak and take all three points.

 

If you can’t watch the match this weekend you can follow my live text commentary and analysis of the Premier League game between Arsenal and Liverpool this weekend, along with every other Premiership fixture on that day, on Bleacher Report. Become my fan now to easily find the commentary on Saturday from 12:30pm UK / 7:30am ET.

Liverpool Under 19’s Gear Up for NextGen Series; European Test Awaits Youngsters


In less than two weeks, Liverpool and fifteen other teams kick off their NextGen Series tournaments with the first round of fixtures in the new European under-19 tournament, with its Champions League-style format.

For Liverpool this represents another step up for the highly acclaimed Academy set up which has been overseen for the last couple of seasons by Frank McParland (Director), Pep Segura (Technical Director), Rodolfo Borrell (under-18 coach) and Mike Marsh (under-16 coach). This summer saw something of a change to the coaching set-up as Marsh took over the under-18 side and Borrell moved up to lead the reserve team, which functions mainly as an under-21 side for Liverpool these days.

Great strides have been made by the youngsters at the club and those directing them over the past couple of seasons, exemplified by the appearances and performances in the second half of 2010-11 of first Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing (though at 22, he has been more a reserve team product over the same time period than an under 18/academy player, despite obviously coming through the academy system long-term) and later in the season full back pair Jack Robinson and John Flanagan.

Robinson and Flanagan will no doubt feature further for Liverpool’s first team in the coming 2011-12 season but with senior players having now returned from injuries (such as Fabio Aurelio and Glen Johnson) they may find games not quite as regularly forthcoming as at the back end of last term, at least in the near future.

Both of those players, however, at just 17 and 18 years of age respectively are still eligible to take part in Liverpool’s NextGen Series side, despite featuring heavily in the first team’s pre-season campaign.

As well as the talented full-back duo, budding central midfielder Conor Coady played and scored for the first team while out on the tour of Asia last month, as well as featuring against Hull City and Galatasary.

Andre Wisdom, a powerful and composed on the ball defender who has featured for England’s youth sides regularly, came off the bench in Liverpool’s first four pre-season friendlies this summer and was involved in two first team squads last season, as well as training with the first team during the campaign.

Much spoken-about Raheem Sterling made a cameo appearance for Liverpool against Norwegian outfit Valerenga and also represented England at the recent under 17 tournament, while defender Stephen Sama also made his first team bow in the fixture against the Norwegians.

Such exposure at a young age – Sterling is still only 16 while Coady, Sama and Wisdom are all 18 – does not necessarily translate to future success in a Red shirt, but certainly serves to indicate the relative position of strength of the academy and reserve sides at present and perhaps shows that in such a high-profile tournament these players may get a taste of what could be to come should they continue to improve and challenge for a senior place in the coming months and years.

The Reds will face strong competition from Molde and Wolfsburg but arguably the toughest part of the draw – in terms of reputation at least – will come from the impressive youth outfit of Sporting Lisbon, heralded as one of the most prolific and consistent production lines on the continent and the side against who Liverpool’s youngsters will make their debut in the competition.

Whether Liverpool do well, win the tournament or get knocked out at the group stage is at this point almost irrelevant, certainly at least it is secondary to preparing the young players for the challenges that lie ahead.

A minimum of six mouth-watering clashes against some of the continent’s finest representatives of this age group could give a real indication of exactly where the promising youngsters are in their development – and impressive showings in the NextGen Series will certainly do their chances no harm at all of joining up with the senior squad again in the near future.

Robinson, Flanagan, Spearing and Kelly all made big strides last season under Kenny Dalglish; Rodolfo Borrell’s next wave of young charges will hope to emulate them this coming season and the upcoming tournament is a great platform for them to show just why each of them should be next.

Liverpool Pre-Season: Why Fans Shouldn’t Worry About Conceding Too Many Goals


Five games, fifteen goals conceded.

Whatever way you look at it and regardless of the standard of opposition, that is not a welcome statistic, nor one which would usually be associated with Liverpool Football Club.

It’s just a couple of weeks before the 2011-12 Premier League season kicks off and Liverpool appear to still have more than just one or two creases to iron out within the side.

Often during a period of change for a club, on-the-field performances can take a hit as a result of new faces, changing targets and fan expectancy. However, none of this really should be affecting the Reds.

Liverpool’s target this season is what it has always been – finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, so that hasn’t changed. Don’t confuse ‘targets’ with ‘aims’ – the eventual aim is of course to win the league, but the minimum requirement, the target, is to break back into the top four.

Fan expectancy can fluctuate wildly, but again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to people that Liverpool fans expect success; that is what we have been brought up on and that is what we aspire to get back to. In the main part, fans realise that success is not an instant reward and that there is a long process to get through, though of course some demand immediate returns in the form of constant silverware.

And changing faces? Well, unlike previous summers, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the back of too many people who we wouldn’t really want to be rid of, Alberto Aquilani potentially aside. The new players, Henderson, Adam, Downing and Doni, have settled in well and quickly and have arguably been some of the most consistent players during this pre-season, so that doesn’t appear to be much of a factor either.

So why is it that Liverpool have conceded three goals every match this summer?

Sunray Cave, Malaysia XI, Hull City, Galatasary, Valerenga; probably not a list of teams which have an awful lot in common with each other. Each of those five sides have put three past the red (and grey, and white) of Liverpool this pre-season. Valencia await in the final friendly and with the likes of Soldado, Mata and Aduriz providing the ammunition there is every chance that the nets at the Kop and Anfield Road ends will bulge again for the away side.

A week later Liverpool face Sunderland at home – the beginning of the new season and the first full term in charge for Kenny Dalglish since his return.

Will the Reds be ready in defence? Will they find their resolute performances which saw four clean sheets in February, three in four games in March, and three more in four games in April and May?

If they will be, why can’t they do it now, only a week or two before hand?

Let’s look at this objectively:

In five friendly matches, Liverpool have fielded five goalkeepers. Peter Gulacsi, Brad Jones, Martin Hansen, Alexander Doni and, finally last night, Pepe Reina.

The constant changing of a goalkeeper behind a defence – any defence – will always have a degenerative effect on the organisation of the team. We all know Reina excels at commanding the players in front of him and ensures that areas are properly monitored at set pieces. Brad Jones is the opposite of that, preferring to remain rooted inside his six yard area letting a more deep-lying defence do its job before he has to.

Hansen and Gulacsi are untested at first team level and nerves will no doubt have played a part in them attempting to direct the more experienced players in front of them – certainly Hansen’s spill on the Asian tour betrayed hints of that inexperience.

Then Doni, the new arrival from Roma, was only making his debut against Hull City. I don’t know how good his command of English is but I’m sure that after only a couple of training sessions he isn’t quite yet up to speed with how Dalglish and Steve Clarke like to organise the defence, where they hold the line, how they mark and many other facets of the defensive system.

Pepe Reina only returned to the fold against Valerenga after sitting out all summer recovering from a double hernia operation. He’s a great ‘keeper but even the best might take more than twenty minutes into their first game back to shake off the rustiness, even in something as automatic as communication.

Next we can look at the defenders who have played.

How many defenders would you expect to feature during the league campaign in a run of five matches? Just four, repeated each match? Throw in a few subs and make it six? An injury, maybe seven?

In these five matches no less than TWELVE defenders have featured at various times; John Flanagan, Jamie Carragher, Danny Wilson, Jack Robinson, Martin Kelly, Danny Agger, Soto Kyrgiakos, Andre Wisdom, Emiliano Insua, Dani Ayala, Glen Johnson and Stephen Sama have all played in different defensive roles, while outcast Philipp Degen also played, though in midfield.

While you could argue that the full backs have the same role regardless of who plays left or right, some of them have played on both sides. They have all played next to different team mates and with alternating players ahead of them in midfield. They have played different amounts of minutes and some, such as Johnson, have only just returned from injury. Fabio Aurelio, arguably the first choice left back at present when he can keep himself fit for more than five minutes at a time, hasn’t even made the pitch yet this summer.

Centrally, last season’s ever-present Martin Skrtel has yet to play as he recovers from a calf injury. The pairing in the middle has been asvaried and mixed up as a lucky dip fantasy football team. Kelly and Wilson barely played in the centre at all between them last season and have both been asked to feature there in the pre-season.

Throw in the added fact that ahead of the defence, the first choice organiser, water-carrier, ball-winner and loose-ball-picker-upper has been absent all summer through international commitments (along with the energy and determination that Lucas Leiva brings to the side) and it is clear that there are more than enough circumstances surrounding the defence at present that we shouldn’t be surprised that goals are being conceded.

Look also at the times that lots of the goals have been conceded: vs Malaysia, goals went in after 79 and 80 minutes; against Sunray on 90 and 91, Galatasary scored one after 83 minutes and Valerenga equalised last night three minutes into stoppage time.

Six goals out of the fifteen scored in or around the last ten minutes of the game.

This is pre-season; aside from the fact that the games mean nothing, the players are having to get through an awful lot of fitness and conditioning work prior to and after matches. Late on in essentially meaningless games there is a high chance that due to tiredness, lack of concentration or just that small edge of sharpness which comes as standard in Premier League games is missing – leading to goals needlessly conceded.

Of course we shouldn’t be happy that the Reds are conceding a lot of goals, nor should we ignore the fact. But it also shouldn’t be made to be a bigger issue than it is.

Its not an elephant in the room that nobody wants to see – Reina, Kuyt and Dalglish himself have already all alluded to the need to improve and I’m sure that the whole squad will get a thorough work out in the finer points of defending back at Melwood this week.

There are more than four weeks left of the transfer window and it is still possible that defensive reinforcements will arrive. But even if they don’t, it is not that big a deal.

Come Saturday 13th August, Reina will be in goal, Carragher and (presuming he stays injury-free) Agger will play in the centre and Glen Johnson will man one full back area with Dalglish likely to choose between Kelly, Flanagan and Robinson for the other, assuming nobody new arrives before then.

Lucas will be back, the formation and playing system will be decided upon, set and practised endlessly and the Kop will be so busy roaring Kuyt, Carroll et al on to score goals that the defending will take care of itself as Liverpool seek to start the season with a win. Hopefully there won’t even be that much to be done as Sunderland will have their own problems in integrating an entire new XI to play together.

Personally speaking, I am more concerned with Liverpool stepping things up with their movement, ball retention and energy, as well as getting more support to Carroll so things don’t have to be fired towards his head every time, rather than worrying about conceding goals and bringing in a new centre back. If Agger is fit he is better than anybody else we can bring in so I’m not bothered about arguing over Dann, Shawcross or anyone else.

But if you still aren’t convinced and think that stemming the flow of incoming goals before the match against Valencia is definitely, absolutely, can’t-possibly-be-anything-more-important-to-focus-on more essential, then ponder on this:

In the summer of 2006, Liverpool’s last friendly was against lowly German opposition Mainz. They battered us 5-0.

Later that season, we went all the way to the Champions League final in Athens.

So do pre-season issues and problems reflect on how the season is going to pan out? Not a chance. Just look at Bruno Cheyrou’s heroics before the serious games started.

So don’t worry about it. Don’t panic. Don’t criticise and write off the experienced stars and the promising youngsters, just because a bunch of players you’ve never heard of scored a few goals one month against us.

After all… it’s only pre-season.