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Sunday 22 October 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Life without Luis biting so hard for liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Dejected Liverpool players look on at the finall whistle after conceding a late goal to level the scores during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on September 27, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Dejected Liverpool players look on at the finall whistle after conceding a late goal to level the scores during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on September 27, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

WHEN I arrived at Anfield, one of the first things I learned was how we defended as a team. It started with the striker and each man took his queue from the man in front.

What that meant was that lads like Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish or any of the long list of top class front-men who gave distinguished service to the club while I was there made it their business to chase the defender with the ball.

Next man back took on the next chase and so one. If you were on it and doing your job right, you should expect to get the ball back or least break down the play after the third or fourth attempt.

It was a club fundamental. We defended from the front and the first man in set the tone for everyone else. For four months last season when Brendan Rodgers brought Liverpool to a pitch of performance which almost won he title, he got the balance spot on and the key to it all was Luis Suarez.

He didn't just produce a lot of goals, Suarez created chances for those around him but most important of all, he would chase and harry any defender in possession and set the rhythm for Daniel Sturridge.

Apart from great defending in the opposition half, Suarez also generated several chances and goals from chasing down lost causes. That's all gone. In it's place, Rodgers is now trying to do the same with Adam Lallana and Mario Balotelli.

To be fair to Balotelli, the hunting, snapping and tackling which Suarez did was second nature and the Italian is just not built for it, even if he could be bothered. Lallana's first few months have been underwhelming and Balotelli is all about uncertainty. Suarez brought certainty.

Every player who pulled on a shirt in the same dressing room as Suarez knew that no matter how bad things got, no matter how off form everyone else was, Suarez offered a 'get out of jail card' and Liverpool got to use it in every match.

He created momentum and I'm wondering where Rodgers is going to find that. Sturridge match fit will be a big help but we're six weeks in now and Saturday's derby draw didn't fill the heart full of optimism.

I think it's fair to say that Liverpool should have won the game and but for Phil Jagielka's ridiculous equaliser, would have won but it wasn't a performance which was convincing.

This version of Liverpool doesn't defend from the front. Balotelli worked reasonably hard but he didn't set a marker for everyone behind him and I think it is pointless to expect him to.

As Rodgers said, the team is "a bit broken" and it's pretty plain to see. My concern now is not so much that there is no Plan B but that he no longer has the players he needs to make Plan A work.

Plan A nearly won the Premier League title so with a tweak or two, it wasn't unreasonable to expect Liverpool to be even better this season.

Unfortunately, the tweak came in the wrong direction and Suarez disappeared and as each game comes and goes, I feel more and more uneasy. A few weeks back, my advice to Liverpool fans was to hunker down and give Rodgers a chance to bed in his new players.

But the reality of Suarez's absence is really biting deep now.

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