Liverpool Needs Keeper for Europe
Liverpool have not lost a game against an English team since they lost to Chelsea 1-0 in the League Cup semi-final on Jan. 27, and they haven’t lost a league game since Dec. 14 when Manchester United beat them 3-0.
In their last 22 games in all competitions, Liverpool sport 14 wins, eight draws and two losses.
Liverpool stumbled out of the gate – alright, they drunkenly fell out of the gate and had to puke and rally – but they have found their legs again. The importance of a team finding their form at the right time cannot be understated, especially with just ten league games remaining.
Liverpool is hanging on in fifth place, two points behind fierce rival Manchester United, and just three points behind Arsenal. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has been confident the team can climb higher than fourth place, but fourth place – and the much-coveted Champions League spot – would be ideal for the club moving forward.
Champions League is the measuring stick by which all great football clubs are measured, whether they are from England, Turkey, Spain or any country in the competition. Liverpool have not shown themselves to be a threat since the 2006-2007 season, when they were eliminated by AC Milan in the finals by a score of 2-1.
This year’s Champions League was embarrassing for Liverpool, who took only one win out of their six group stage matches. Europa League did little to inspire fans, seeing Liverpool drop out to Besiktas on penalty kicks in the early play-off stages by an aggregate score of 5-4.
Where does the team go from here?
Liverpool will surely be intent on results in the FA Cup, which will give Rodgers a chance to bring the Liverpool its first title under his reign, but an FA Cup win will not serve notice in the same fashion Champions League result would.
Liverpool’s reputation would be better served with a deep run in Champions League – say a quarter-finals appearance – than it would from winning an FA Cup or finishing in second place again.
That being said, what is Liverpool missing in order to be competitive in Europe?
A world-class goalkeeper, for starters. Simon Mignolet has stretches where he looks nearly world-class, but then he has stretches where he couldn’t be trusted to man the sticks for Liverpool’s U-21 side. There have also been long-term defensive questions for Liverpool’s team, and not just in their back four (or back three, as Rodgers currently prefers). Mignolet is ranked 18th on the team with an average match rating of 6.70, which marks him as an average Premier League goalkeeper. He makes 2.4 saves per game.
Liverpool is tied for the fifth-best defense in the game with 30 goals against in 28 matches. They rank sixth in the league with 11 shots against per game, and fourth with 21 tackles per game, according to whoscored.com. Their overall defensive rating of 7.13 puts them fifth in the league.
Martin Skrtel leads the pack with a 7.35 rating, averaging 10.3 clearances, 1.3 blocks 1.1 tackles and 1.8 interceptions a game. Skrtel has been inconsistent in years past, but has shown his ability and stability in the back line this season. Emre Can has been sensational in the back line, and patrolling the midfield, this season, with a sparkling 7.19 rating. Mamadou Sakho rounds out the top three defenders with a 7.04 rating, closely follow by Dejan Lovren, who is waking up after a groggy start to the season, with a 6.92 rating.
It is unclear whether Liverpool will seek any upgrades in defense, as Lovren and Sakho are just beginning to enter their prime at 25 years of age, and Can is only a pup at 21. Skrtel is 30, which means he should have a few good years remaining.
Liverpool’s midfielders have also done their share of defending this season. Moving Alberto Moreno up as a winger has given the defensive line solid cover this season, and at 22 years old he should only continue to improve. Lazar Markovic has been surprisingly adept in his winger role, especially on the defensive end, averaging 1.4 tackles, .9 interceptions and .6 clearances a game at just 21 years old.
The crux of Liverpool’s defensive midfielders is formed by Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson, not to mention Steven Gerrard. Leiva has a team-leading 4.1 tackles per game, while Henderson is also near the top with 2.4 per game. Gerrard is still relevant with 1.8 tackles and 2.1 clearances, although his overall average match rating of 6.96 demonstrates his decline this season.
It is clear they are finally getting the defensive play they need from their back line and midfielders. It goes without saying that a team looking to be a top team in the Premiership, let alone a competitor in the Champions League, they need more than average goalkeeping.