Liverpool’s urgent need for center-back laid bare in FA Cup loss
Liverpool simply cannot take a break at the moment.
As they approached their FA Cup fixture against Manchester United, the focus was on their lack of prowess in front of goal – and with good reason. Pull out their unconvincing 4-1 win over the Aston Villa children and they had only scored once in their previous five games, with the Reds shooting a blank in each of their last four.
Once considered the best forward line on the planet, the superhuman powers of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were being seriously questioned for the first time in years.
Jurgen Klopp reportedly looked in relief on Sunday, then, when Firmino and Salah brilliantly combined to give their side the lead at Old Trafford. The strike was classic Liverpool; Firmino created space for himself by dropping between the lines, before slipping a perfect ball in the path of his teammates. Salah then finished in a typically clinical fashion, cheekily smoothing the ball over Dean Henderson.
It also wouldn’t be the last time the pair combined. Liverpool’s second goal was even more Klopp-esque, his side turning defense into offense in seconds. It started when Edinson Cavani’s promising pass was repelled by a fierce James Milner. He then played a clever one-two with Firmino – whose tendency to float had once again left him in acres of space – before passing it off as Salah crushing the house.
A recent form would suggest that those two strikes would be enough for Liverpool to secure victory. Aside from that bizarre 7-2 at the hands of Villa, the Reds have only conceded 15 times in 18 Premier League games this season. And this despite the absences of starting central defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
However, as has been typical of Liverpool’s whack-a-mole season, when one problem appeared to be resolved, another reared its ugly head. Namely, Rhys Williams’ complete lack of suitability for the next level. Against United, the 19-year-old looked woefully overwhelmed. An early misstep set the tone for his unconvincing performance, with the nadir coming in the build-up of Marcus Rashford’s goal, which brought the score to 2-1 against United.
The lack of a routine clearance allowed Rashford to score a goal and the country’s de facto opposition leader made no mistakes, slipping calmly home. This isn’t Williams’ first high-profile mistake, either. Against Villa in the previous round, Louie Barry, 17, left him for dead to open the scoring, and he also struggled after coming off the bench in his side’s 1-1 draw against West Brom in the month latest.
Of course, none of these mistakes are the fault of the youngsters and let’s not forget that his performances weren’t all bad – he ended up winning five aerial duels, a game-high. Instead, guilt is at the door of his club, which remain fanatically opposed to the idea of signing a defender in January.
For context, this time last year, Williams came to the end of his loan with Kidderminster Harriers in the sixth level of English football.
Expecting him to suddenly be ready for the highest level is not only unreasonable but utterly irresponsible on the part of the Reds, with such blows to Williams’ confidence at such an early stage in his development on such a grand scale. potentially damaging scene to its future.
Good margins are often what decides games like the one against United on Sunday. The point is that with a proven center-back with Fabinho, Liverpool would have extended the game.
There is still time for the Reds to rectify the situation, but they need to act quickly in order to resolve an issue that has been clear to everyone for some time.