There are two obvious moments towards the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season that you could attribute to Liverpool losing the title.
Steven Gerrard’s agonising slip against Chelsea is one and squandering a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace is the other. But Brendan Rodgers hinted at something different last week, an overarching weakness that plagued his time on Merseyside.
Speaking after his impressive Leicester side beat Arsenal, he said: ‘At Liverpool of course we were very good going forward. You have to ask did I have the players to defend how we would want to defend? I think now at Liverpool they obviously invested a lot of money to get those types of players in.’
Brendan Rodgers suggested he didn’t get the defenders he wanted at Liverpool last week
The side that almost won the Premier League in 2013-14 conceded 50 goals over 38 matches
Maybe he has a point too. During that campaign Liverpool played some of the best football the Kop has seen in recent memory. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were devastating in attack, scoring 56 goals between them across all competitions.
The midfield diamond of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling adapted to their manager’s tactical demands effortlessly and, without that blip when it mattered most, they would have been worthy champions.
Liverpool scored 101 goals in the league that year, 12 more than Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League-winning side managed during their ferocious battle with Manchester City last season.
It was a different story at the other end of the pitch though. The Reds conceded 50 goals in the Premier League that season, 13 more than champions City and 23 more than third-placed Chelsea.
With a back five of Simon Mignolet, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Jon Flanagan in the closing weeks of the season it was no wonder so much emphasis was placed on attack.
Rodgers tried to improve his centre backs by splashing out £18m on Mamadou Sakho in 2013
Liverpool capitulated against Crystal Palace to signal the end of their title-winning chances
During their final push for the title Liverpool conceded three at Palace, two at Norwich, three at Cardiff, three at home to Swansea and three at Stoke. They won all but one of those matches thanks to their attacking play.
But did Rodgers really do enough to shore up his back line in his spell on Merseyside?
There were no defensive signings in his first season in charge and 2013/14 saw £18million spent on Sakho, £10m on Mignolet, £7m on Tiago Ilori, Aly Cissokho join on loan and Kolo Toure arrive on a fee.
RODGERS’ DEFENSIVE SIGNINGS AS LIVERPOOL MANAGER
Nathaniel Clyne – £15m
Joe Gomez – £3.5m
Alberto Moreno – £12m
Dejan Lovren – £20m
Tiago Ilori – £7m
Mamadou Sakho – £18m
Kolo Toure – free
Javier Manquillo – loan
Simon Mignolet – £10m
Hardly earth-shattering signings are they? Sakho was cast aside by Paris Saint-Germain as they sought someone who could help them tussle Europe’s elite while Mignolet arrived from Sunderland, a team that conceded 54 goals the season before.
Ilori was still finding his feet at the elite level of the professional game, Cissokho was deemed surplus to requirements by Valencia and Toure was not offered a new contract by title rivals City.
It is important to remember that Jamie Carragher was a major loss to the defensive unit when he left in 2013 and a leadership figure in the heart of defence had been lacking until Virgil van Dijk turned up.
So, after conceding too many goals for a team wanting to win the title, Rodgers set about fixing his defence in the summer of 2014 with the money generated from the sale of Suarez to Barcelona.
Dejan Lovren was one of three signings from Southampton that summer, along with Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, in a £20m deal after impressing in his first season in England.
The Croatian is still at Anfield and is an important part of Klopp’s squad, playing superb against Sergio Aguero in Liverpool’s victory over City on Sunday.
Reinforcements were signed in 2014 with Dejan Lovren (L) and Alberto Moreno (R) coming in
Liverpool let in 48 league goals in 14/15, including six at Stoke on the last day of the season
The left-back position had been problematic for Liverpool throughout the reigns of Rafa Benitez, Kenny Dalglish and Roy Hodgson. Nobody since John Arne Riise had claimed the position as their own but Rodgers thought Alberto Moreno was the man to do just that.
The Spaniard’s stock was high in his homeland. He had won the Europa League the season before with Unai Emery and possessed the offensive abilities to make an impact at both ends of the pitch.
In reality he was ineffectual offensively and defensively. How Rodgers and Klopp persisted with him for as long as they did is mystifying but now Andy Robertson has fixed a problem that was becoming almost chronic for Liverpool.
If Moreno was a bad signing than Javier Manquillo was dreadful. The Spaniard was loaned in from Atletico Madrid for two seasons but saw his spell cut short after just one. Things didn’t improve at the back though and Liverpool were lost without Suarez.
They dropped straight out of the Champions League places and conceded 48 league goals in 14/15, including nine in their last two games against Crystal Palace and Stoke, on their way to a sixth-place finish as Rodgers struggled to hold onto his job.
Further investment was made in his back line in 2015. Glen Johnson was replaced at right back by Nathaniel Clyne for £15m while Joe Gomez also arrived that summer for a mere £3.5m, a bargain considering the performances he has put in over the past 18 months.
Rodgers managed eight games of the 2015-16 season before getting the sack in October
Liverpool now have one of the world’s best defences thanks to smart and heavy investment
Rodgers managed eight games of that season before getting the chop after a Merseyside derby draw at Goodison Park. Klopp came in and has completely altered the path of the football club with his team built on one of Europe’s most resilient defences.
Sure, Klopp has Van Dijk at his core but the purchase of Robertson and the free transfer of Joel Matip proves his eye in the transfer market is superior to Rodgers’ too.
It is Leicester who boast the Premier League’s meanest defence at present though, with the Foxes conceding just eight goals in their first 12 matches, and Rodgers believes the players at his disposal now are superior to what he had at Anfield.
He added on Saturday: ‘Here, I’ve got a top level centre-half in Jonny Evans, a young player and character beside him who is amazing (Caglar Soyuncu) and a top European goalkeeper (Kasper Schmeichel). Right the way through the team, everyone is set up to connect and defend together.’
All three of those players were at Leicester before Rodgers but their performances have gone up a level under their manager. There is no doubting his tactical work is superb but perhaps recruiting defenders is an area to improve.