Liverpool's struggling attack deserves as much blame as shaky defence
As two more points were thrown away at Newcastle last weekend, frustration continues to grow at Liverpool's inability to keep clean sheets. The defence have been heavily criticised all season and yes, they did give up another terrible goal at St James' Park. Yet in Liverpool's last two fixtures, which both ended in disappointing 1-1 draws, it has been the attack that posed the bigger problem.
Without entirely absolving the defence from blame, surely it's more of a concern when a team that is built for attack is not putting the ball in the net as frequently as it should?
Liverpool will always concede goals because of how they play, but the bigger problem comes when they are not creating chances or, as is the case currently, not converting enough of the chances they are creating. A team that is built for attack can usually rely on their forwards to overcome any defensive slipups, but asking the defence to bail out wasteful forward play is rarely going to end well.
Some will argue that having scored in Moscow and at Newcastle, Liverpool did enough to win the game and the failure to keep a clean sheet cost them. In reality though, one goal is rarely enough and when you dominate games as Liverpool usually do, you ought to have more than one goal to show for it.
This isn't really an attack-versus-defence issue though, as neither have been good enough in recent weeks. It's just that the forward players seem to have been getting a much easier ride. Score one goal in a game and it's seen as "job done" regardless of what else happens. Defend well for 89 minutes but make one costly slip and you're the villain. Such is the difference between life as a forward compared to a defender or goalkeeper.
Take Mohamed Salah. The Egypt international has rightly been lauded for the excellent start he made to life at Anfield and he has six goals to his name already. Impressive, but it probably should be close to double that based on the number of clear chances he has not taken. Nobody is blaming Salah for Liverpool's indifferent start to the season and nor should they, yet he and Liverpool's other forwards are just as culpable as the defence.
This recent run of just one win in seven is because Liverpool haven't been good enough at either end of the field. No-one's hands are clean -- except maybe Philippe Coutinho, who really could not have done much more than he has.
Not all of the goals conceded can be pinned on the back four and goalkeeper, even if they have all been culpable at various times. Defending is a team effort and that it starts from the front. Take the appalling goal Liverpool conceded at Newcastle last weekend, for example. One pass through the middle beat both of Liverpool's centre backs, and that simply cannot happen. Joel Matip has to do better, certainly, but the initial problem comes from Daniel Sturridge giving the ball away cheaply.
Most of the goals Liverpool have conceded have numerous sets of fingerprints on them, but this is the danger when your team's entire identity is based around attacking. When the ball is lost, players have to immediately switch from an attacking mindset to a defensive one and sometimes it doesn't happen quickly enough, if at all. Sure, if the defence had kept a clean sheet last week at Newcastle then Liverpool would have claimed all three points, but the bigger problem was only scoring once in a game they dominated from start to finish. It was the same in Moscow against Spartak: Sturridge missed a glorious chance to win the Newcastle game, just as he had done five days earlier in Moscow.
Scoring one goal may be enough for a team such as Burnley, whose entire identity is based around being solid, organised and hard to break down, but for a team built upon relentless attacking play and scoring goals, sometimes one is not enough. It should be, of course, but sometimes it isn't, which is why you must turn dominance into goals. Liverpool currently aren't doing that and it's costing them.
Some will argue that the forwards are under added pressure to score because they know the defence isn't solid enough. Perhaps they are, but it's not an excuse as footballers are always under pressure, especially at big clubs such as Liverpool. They need to be able to handle that.
Liverpool's defenders can be blamed for a lot of things, but don't point the finger at them if Salah and Roberto Firmino are needing four chances to score one goal or when Sturridge is fluffing chances he'd have taken with his eyes closed a few years back.
The good news for Jurgen Klopp is that his team are dominating most games and creating plenty of chances. The bad news is they are not converting enough of them. For a team that is geared so much toward attacking, that's always going to be problematic, but the law of averages suggests Liverpool will snap out of this sooner or later, and when that happens we will hopefully no longer be talking so much about the defence.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.