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Friday 18 August 2017

Back issues for Rodgers

Mario may have grabbed headlines but Reds have serious defensive issues

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

Under-fire striker Mario Balotelli's spell in the headlines has helped deflect attention from Liverpool's real problem but manager Brendan Rodgers knows that is something which cannot be ignored.

The Reds have kept just one clean sheet in their last 18 matches and a summer overhaul of the defence has not rectified an increasingly worrying issue.

This season Liverpool have conceded 19 times, two more than they have scored, and a weakness at crosses and set-pieces has contributed to some inconsistent performances and indifferent results.

While the misfiring Balotelli, with just one goal in 10 appearances, is creating a cause for concern up front in the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge, the real worries are at the other end of the field.

relative

The introduction of £20million centre-half Dejan Lovren and £12million left-back Alberto Moreno appears to have had no effect on the Reds' vulnerability particularly in the air but Rodgers insists it is an issue which is relative to the whole team.

"Defensively we need to be better as a team, not just the defence and goalkeeper," he said ahead of the visit of Hull.

"We all pride ourselves on clean sheets but we need to be more competitive and aggressive in those moments as a team.

"That was the disappointment against Real Madrid (a 3-0 defeat on Wednesday) and also the goals we have conceded a large number of them have been soft and it is our job to improve that quickly.

"We need to work harder and make it better. We need to reinforce key principles in that organisation and then it's you as a player on the field showing that competitive spirit.

"The great competitors don't get done so easily in those situations and that's something we need to improve upon."

Rodgers believes part of the reason for the increased criticism in the wake of the defeat to Real is because expectations have increased massively after last season's run to second place in the Premier League.

They did that thanks to 31 goals from the now-departed Luis Suarez but the Reds boss was keen to stress the picture was not as bleak as some were painting.

"We have been a victim in terms of how well we have done," he added.

"I looked at the Real result from how far we had come because two and bit years ago we were a long way off playing Real Madrid at Anfield.

"But we have made such strides we were expected to go into a game against the best team in the world and win.

"For all the criticism the team has taken we are joint-fourth in the league, we are still in the league cup and getting out of the (Champions League) group stage is still in our hands."

With Sturridge not yet ready to return Rodgers has little option but to persevere with Balotelli up front having virtually admitted £4million summer signing Rickie Lambert is a substitute of last-resort.

The England international remained on the bench for the entire game against Real watching as winger Raheem Sterling was pressed into action as an emergency striker after Balotelli was withdrawn at half-time.

Rodgers said it was an option he could use again but that by no means plays to the 19-year-old's strengths while also placing an additional burden on the shoulders of a youngster who is already much responsibility for the side.

"I felt in the (Madrid) game his mobility and speed would help us along that line," he said.

"He is a very talented young player and played as a striker as a youngster so he understands the position.

"If we feel it helps the team it is something I can look at and I felt it was something that could help us at half-time.

available

"I always select the players having looked at how well they work in training and who is available and we select what we think is the best team to win the games.

"Mario wants to score, we want to score goals and obviously at this moment in time he is not.

"Hard work will improve confidence and confidence improves your success, it is as simple as that."

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