Rodgers admits defensive issues

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Published: Friday 24th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Under-fire striker Mario Balotelli’s spell in the headlines has helped deflect attention from Liverpool’s real problem but manager Brendan Rodgers knows that is something which cannot be ignored.

The Reds have kept just one clean sheet in their last 18 matches and a summer overhaul of the defence has not rectified an increasingly worrying issue.

This season Liverpool have conceded 19 times, two more than they have scored, and a weakness at crosses and set-pieces has contributed to some inconsistent performances and indifferent results.

While the misfiring Balotelli, with just one goal in 10 appearances, is creating a cause for concern up front in the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge, the real worries are at the other end of the field.

The introduction of £20million centre-half Dejan Lovren and £12million left-back Alberto Moreno appears to have had no effect on the Reds’ vulnerability, particularly in the air, but Rodgers insists it is an issue which is relative to the whole team.

“Defensively we need to be better as a team, not just the defence and goalkeeper,” he said ahead of the visit of Hull.

“We all pride ourselves on clean sheets but we need to be more competitive and aggressive in those moments as a team.

“That was the disappointment against Real Madrid (a 3-0 defeat on Wednesday) and also with the goals we have conceded – a large number of them have been soft and it is our job to improve that quickly.

“We need to work harder and make it better. We need to reinforce key principles in that organisation and then it’s you as a player on the field showing that competitive spirit.

“The great competitors don’t get done so easily in those situations and that’s something we need to improve upon.”

Balotelli is likely to keep his place for the visit of Hull as Rodgers has limited options up front.

The 24-year-old has scored just once in 10 appearances but with Sturridge still sidelined by a calf problem the Italy international will probably start ahead of Rickie Lambert.

Midfielder Adam Lallana is pushing for a starting place after impressing as a substitute in the midweek defeat to Real Madrid.

Injuries have hit Hull hard in the past week, meaning big changes for the trip.

Third-choice goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic is in line for only his second Premier League start with Allan McGregor (shoulder) and Steve Harper (bicep) both out, while striker Nikica Jelavic (knee) and centre-back Michael Dawson (ankle) are both missing for at least a month.

Left-back Andy Robertson has a knock that is set to keep him out too, but Tom Huddlestone should be fine to play through discomfort for the third game in a row.

Hull manager Steve Bruce believes Balotelli may not have been too far wrong with his famous ‘why always me?’ statement, claiming the striker has been treated as a “whipping boy” by his critics.

Balotelli has been a divisive figure wherever he has plied his trade, from Manchester to Milan, and that is no different now he is with Liverpool.

He has endured a slow start to his Reds career, scoring just once in 10 appearances following his £16million summer move.

The Italy international was placed firmly in the spotlight after the 3-0 Champions League defeat against Real Madrid, with manager Brendan Rodgers apparently among those unimpressed with his decision to swap shirts with Pepe at half-time.

But with Hull heading to Anfield on Saturday, Bruce spoke of his sympathy for Balotelli, who once celebrated a goal in the Manchester derby by unveiling a t-shirt with the slogan ‘why always me?’.

“It’s not for me to comment on other people’s players but from the outside he seems to be the whipping boy at the moment,” said the Tigers boss.

“That’s always a bit unfair. There’s always a scapegoat and he seems to be the one at the minute that the media are on to, and everyone else too.

“I think it’s a bit unfair on the lad.

“There’s always one that people pick on. I suppose the changing of the strip (didn’t help) but I thought he did okay in that game.

“There’s lots been made of the changing of shirts but we’ve seen it for years haven’t we?

“It’s maybe not in our DNA in the English leagues but abroad they all do it and they think it’s nothing.”

Published: Friday 24th October 2014 by The News Editor

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