Lazar Markovic

Liverpool’s Ministry of Defence is the key to their recent surge

Unbeaten in the Premier League since December 21 2014, Liverpool are now well and truly in the mix for a place in the top three, largely due to the very thing that hampered them last season.

Offensively, Liverpool were dynamite in 2013/14, scoring 101 goals in 38 games, largely thanks to Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez with 31 goals and runner up Daniel Sturridge with 21 of his own.

Defensively, however, they fizzled out. 50 goals were conceded by the Reds, 12 teams conceded more, only two of which (Tottenham and Newcastle) finished in the top half.

A collapse at the back in the iconic 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace when 3-0 up comes to mind as the match that lost Liverpool the title.

This campaign has pretty much been the complete opposite, Liverpool’s strikers have been rather pathetic, while defensively they have improved massively, despite early season stick.

Summer signing Mario Balotelli has just one Premier League goal, as does Fabio Borini, while Rickie Lambert and Sturridge (who has been out injured until recently) have just two each.

Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping has been brought into question regularly this season, despite this though he does have the joint second highest amount of clean sheets (10) from 24 games. Only Southampton’s Fraser Forster (12) has more.

Simon says "don't let them score": Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.

Simon says “don’t let them score”: Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.

This is largely due to Brendan Rodgers’ new system of defenders with three centre backs – Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and the most impressive of the trio Emre Can playing in-between the wing-backs of Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.

Can and Markovic deserve the main plaudits here, due to them both being played in unfavoured positions.

Bayern Munich castaway Can has slotted into the heart of Liverpool’s back line since his £9.75 million arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in July, and does not look out of place despite his astute frame and young age of 21.

Markovic, meanwhile has adjusted to playing in a deeper role than what he was used to at Benfica and Partizan Belgrade.

Moreno too on the other flank is the closest thing Liverpool have come to replacing the marauding full-back that was club legend John Arne Riise, probably best underlined by the gif of each player’s first goal for the club.

http://gfycat.com/HiddenCloseGibbon

Not forgetting Anfield cult hero Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian has been subject to both boo boys and fan boys during his time in Merseyside, but everyone loves him now – and rightly so.

Seven of the 10 clean sheets Liverpool have amassed this season have came when Lucas was in the side with the 28-year-old also boasting a passing accuracy of 86%, and has also made 57 tackles in 14 games.

Although the other end of the pitch has been a problem for Rodgers’ side, Philippe Coutinho is now more pivotal to his side and Sterling has blossomed in a false nine role up top, leading the club’s scoring charts with six goals.

Sturridge’s return to injury, and hopefully form, may now make this Liverpool squad the most complete in recent history as they march on to the coveted Champions League places.

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Crystal Palace 3-1 Liverpool (Gayle ’17, Ledley ’78, Jedinak ’81, Lambert ‘2)

Liverpool’s Selhurst Park curse continued as Crystal Palace cruised to a win to climb out of the bottom three while the Reds are now winless in four.

Late strikes from Joe Ledley and an astonishing Mile Jedinak free-kick sealed the three points for Palace despite Liverpool taking the lead after just two minutes.

Rickie Lambert scored his first goal in Liverpool colours to give his boyhood club a dream start before Palace pegged them back.

It was a goal made in Southampton with Lambert latching onto Adam Lallana’s through ball before tucking the ball past Julian Speroni.

Dwight Gayle took the wind out of Liverpool’s sails soon after though, equalising 15 minutes later when he turned in the rebound from Yannick Bolasie’s fierce strike off the post for his fourth goal in his last three games against Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Palace had to wait a little longer for their second but it was well worth it, Bolasie, who terrorised Liverpool all game, flicked the ball over Dejan Lovren and then squared it to Ledley who was never going to miss from point blank range.

Jedinak completed the scoring when he curled in a corker of a free-kick nine minutes before the end.

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Delaney (Hangeland ’36), Dann, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie, Puncheon (McArthur ’76), Gayle, Chamakh

Subs not used: Hennessey, Bannan, Zaha, Campbell, Johnson

Bookings: Hangeland ’84

Red Cards: None

Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Johnson, Gerrard, Allen (Can ’74), Coutinho, Lallana (Borini ’72), Sterling, Lambert

Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Moreno, Lucas, Markovic

Bookings: Skrtel ’53, Manquillo ’61

Red Cards: None

Man of the Match: Yannick Bolasie

Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid (Ronaldo ’23, Benzema ’30, ’41)

Reigning champions Real Madrid kept up their 100% start to this season’s Champions League campaign thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a brace from Karim Benzema.

Ballon d’Or holder Ronaldo set the Galacticos on their way 23 minutes in, capping off a wonderful one-two with James Rodriguez, letting the ball bounce before beating a despairing Simon Mignolet inside the box with an accomplished finish.

Benzema doubled the visitors’ lead on the half hour mark with a looping header from Toni Kroos’ cross, leaving Mignolet stranded in the Liverpool goal once again.

The French forward netted his second of the tie four minutes before the break when he bundled in a badly defended corner. Pepe scrambled the set piece into the path of the 27-year-old to end the contest before half time.

Phillipe Coutinho came closest for the hosts with a rasping drive in the first half that rattled the post but did not find the net to the relief of the under fire Goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Ronaldo, the ex Manchester United star who scored his first ever goal at the home of their arch rivals tonight, was keen to silence the boo boys during the 90 minutes but could not add to his tally, shooting wide on one occasion and was denied by Mignolet on a few occasions.

He was replaced later on in the second half by Sami Khedira with Carlo Ancelotti clearly having one eye on Saturday’s El Clasico which promises to be an exciting occasion on Saturday evening.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno, Gerrard, Allen, Henderson (Can ’67), Coutinho (Markovic ’67), Sterling, Balotelli (Lallana ’45)

Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Manquillo, Lambert

Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo (Nacho ’85), Kroos (Illaramendi ’82), Modric, Ronaldo (Khedira ’65), Isco, James, Benzema

Subs not used: Navas, Carvajal, Medran, Hernandez

Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa

Aston Villa grinded out an unexpected 0-1 win over Liverpool thanks to an early goal by Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Agbonlahor, who this week signed a four-year contract extension at Villa Park, put his boyhood club 0-1 up after just nine minutes when he bundled in a corner thanks to some poor Liverpool defending.

Said defence was under pressure again soon after but this time Phillipe Senderos headed over from Ashley Westwood’s free-kick.

Liverpool throughout tried and failed to break down a resolute and organised Villa side.

Mario Balotelli, who many quoted as a “bargain” at £16 million was ineffective against Senderos and Nathan Baker on his home debut in a Liverpool shirt and was replaced by Rickie Lambert with 20 minutes to go.

The controversial Italian had just one chance of note, a deflected effort in first half injury time that went wide.

Balotelli also had headed chances at corners but did not gain sufficient contact on either of them.

Liverpool’s closest effort came nine minutes before the end when Phillipe Coutinho hit the post from the outside of the area. From the rebound Raheem Sterling’s shot was blocked by his own player Jordan Henderson which summed up their day.

Brendan Rodgers’ side again showed that while plan A of patient but potent passing play can be deadly as well as easy on the eye, the side lacks a different option when teams set up to defend and hit them through a counter attack or, like this case,  a set piece.

Aston Villa however were impressive in the way they set themselves up and continued their recent good form at Anfield, they have not lost there in their last four outings now.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Lallana (Sterling ’61), Markovic (Borini ’71), Balotelli (Lambert ’71)

Subs not used: Jones, Enrique, Lucas, Toure,

Aston Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Baker, Senderos, Cissokho, Westwood, Delph, Cleverley (Sanchez ’86), Richardson, Agbonlahor (Bent ’90), Weimann (N’Zogbia ’72)

Subs not used: Given, Okore, Bacuna, Grealish

Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool

A Raheem Sterling strike, a spot kick from Steven Gerrard and a magnificent individual goal by Alberto Moreno earned Liverpool a 0-3 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Sterling tapped Liverpool in front after eight minutes and Gerrard’s penalty ensured that his team would be going back to Anfield with three points.

Alberto Moreno’s marauding run and finish ended any Tottenham hopes of a comeback.

Liverpool began the game in typically dynamic fashion, new signing Mario Balotelli had a header saved after just two minutes.

They did not have to wait long for their opener however as Sterling converted from Jordan Henderson’s squared ball just six minutes later.

The Reds began the second half much like they did the first, scoring three minutes after the interval with a Gerrard penalty. Joe Allen was bundled over in the box by Eric Dier who failed to win the ball but the contact was minimal.

Spot on: Gerrard's converts his penalty.

Spot on: Gerrard’s converts his penalty.

Moreno’s first goal in England sealed the win, a powerful unchallenged sprint down the left flank which culmiated in the Spaniard lashing the ball off the inside of the post and in. Lightly reminiscing the sort of goals Gareth Bale scored in the same stadium once upon a time.

Brendan Rodgers’ boys should have made it four after a jinking run but did too much and his final product was a tame shot straight at Hugo Lloris when it was arguably easier to score.

It could have been a totally different game though had firstly Emmanuel Adebayor flick over Simon Mignolet gone under the bar rather than over sixty seconds after Sterling’s opener.

Nacer Chadli also had a half volley superbly saved by Mignolet just before half time.

Tottenham’s game was summed up in second half stoppage time, being denied a penalty for a shirt tug on Adebayor.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Dier, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose (Davies ’72), Bentaleb (Dembele ’59), Capoue, Chadli, Eriksen (Townsend ’59), Lamela, Adebayor

Subs not used: Friedel, Chiriches, Holtby, Kane

Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Henderson, Gerrard, Allen (Can ’61), Sterling (Enrique ’86), Sturridge, Balotelli (Markovic ’61)

Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Lambert, Coutinho

Man of the match: Raheem Sterling

Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool

Champions Manchester City continued their 100% start to the season thanks to a 3- 1 win over Liverpool, a Stevan Jovetic braced and one from Sergio Aguero sealed the points for City.

Debut defender Alberto Moreno was at fault, failing to clear his lines, dallying while Stefan Jovetic seized on Moreno’s hesitancy and smashed home through Simon Mignolet’s legs four minutes before the break.

Moreno fell asleep for the second as well, as Samir Nasri’s squared pass from the right hand side of the box was tapped home by Jovetic but City’s build up play deserves some plaudits.

A flamboyant flick from Jovetic teed up Nasri who returned the favour, picking out the Montenegro man whose shot was just out of reach of Glen Johnson on the line in the tenth minute of the second half.

Aguero’s steady return to the Manchester City fold continued due to his World Cup commitments, coming on as a 68th substitute but his introduction to the score sheet was anything but slow.

20 seconds after coming on, the little Argentine burst onto fellow substitute Jesus Navas’ through ball, leaving the high lined Liverpool defence in his wake, taking one touch and then slotting past Mignolet who was caught in no man’s land.

Rickie Lambert did add faint consolation for the visitors, bundling in his first goal in the colours of his boyhood team when his original shot from Daniel Sturridge’s cross was saved with 83 minutes played.

Liverpool almost halved the deficit but Lambert’s decision to attempt a squared pass to Sturridge instead of taking a shot at goal allowed Vincent Kompany to deal with the situation and an intriguing climax was thwarted.

Brendan Rodgers’ side rarely threatened despite their goal but Sturridge did come relatively close with a fizzing shot that need palming away by Hart, denying the England striker a goal at the club he began his career at.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Nasri, Silva (Navas ’65) Jovetic (Fernandinho ’80), Dzeko (Aguero ’69)

Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Kolarov, Milner

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Moreno, Skrtel, Lovren, Gerrard, Henderson, Allen (Can ’74), Coutinho (Markovic ’60) Sterling (Lambert ’79), Sturridge

Subs not used: Jones, Manquillo, Sakho, Kolo Toure

Man of the match: Stevan Jovetic