Between the Lines: Jamie Redknapp's flawed logic on Liverpool's defending proves his 'punditry' is limited to cliches
As Liverpool scraped through with a 3-3 draw at Watford on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, former Reds players Jamie Redknapp and Jamie Carragher debated the result on Sky Sports, analysing why the Anfield side had failed to come away with all three points.
Jurgen Klopp's side had gone behind in the eighth minute when Watford scored from a set-piece as Stefano Okaka powered home a header from a corner-kick. The Italian striker was virtually unmarked as he rose above the rest in the box and Simon Mignolet barely got a hand to it, unable to keep the ball from going over the line.
As most football pundits do on television, instead of actually analysing the mistake Liverpool made on that set-piece, Redknapp started berating the side for not having any 'leaders' at the back.
"There's a reason why they concede so many goals because they're disorganised and there are no leaders at the back." - Redknapp
Now, nobody is saying Redknapp does not have football intelligence (at least not yet). The man had a decent career in England and would have been one of England's best midfielders had his career not been hit by injuries.
However, he seems to ramble on when it comes to giving his opinion on television and sometimes gets carried away by his own flawed logic.
Redknapp thinks Van Dijk will fix Liverpool's problems
The Sky 'pundit' went on to justify why Liverpool should spend £60m on a centre-back such as Southampton's Virgil van Dijk - to avoid situations just like this. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Liverpool's two centre-backs in the game were Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. Both players were on the edge of the six-yard box but Liverpool's zonal marking strategy saw them on either side of Roberto Firmino.
Okaka had been loitering near the penalty spot before the corner was taken with ample time to find the chink in the armour. And he timed his run to perfection to head the ball home as Firmino looked on.
"If you have someone that is going to be a winner and a leader and who's 6'4" who will head everything that comes into the box, that makes a difference!" - Redknapp
Of course, a signing like Van Dijk would improve any club's defence (notice how he subtly brings up Van Dijk's exact height). But would he have really helped Liverpool's cause on this particular set-piece? Not exactly.
It is at this point that Carragher tries to talk some sense into him.
"On set-pieces, it's not about the defence. The whole eleven comes back on a set-piece and everone has their own individual job...
"The way Liverpool set up set-piece-wise in the game, they will always concede goals. I don't care what defenders they buy - it won't make a difference." - Carragher
But Redknapp refuses to back down, going on to bring Van Dijk back into the discussion, stating he would do a better job.
"He [Van Dijk] is going to make them better, isn't he? He's better than what they've got! That's why I'm saying they should get him." - Redknapp
What Redknapp fails to understand is if Van Dijk was in the team, he would be there at the expense of either Lovren or Matip - neither of whom were in a position to head the ball that was floated into the box.
Redknapp's grouse is that had Van Dijk been in Firmino's position, then he would have immediately cleared the danger.
"If you said to Van Dijk, 'You're going to go in that area where Firmino goes,' you don't think that he'll clear that then?" - Redknapp
It is at this point when I laughed out loud at his so-called logic.
Liverpool's current centre-backs are more than capable of heading the ball away but, as their organisation against Watford shows, had Van Dijk played then he would have been in a position occupied by either Matip or Lovren. Not Firmino.
Even Van Dijk would have had his hands full with Younes Kaboul also attacking the cross. Firmino is in that defensive line on set-pieces because he is nearly six feet tall (he's 5'11").
What Redknapp is effectively saying is that Van Dijk would clear every ball that was floated into the box - no matter where he was. As if to say opponents would target Van Dijk and place the ball in his area rather than avoiding him completely - like choosing a higher difficulty level.
You know, to ensure their own teammates do not score form a free header. *rolls eyes*
Zonal Marking is the issue, not the personnel
Van Dijk is one of the league's best defenders but he is not the Messiah who will deliver the Reds from their poor set-piece defending. The issue here is Liverpool's zonal marking tactics that are clearly not helping Klopp's cause.
Zonal marking on set-pieces expects defenders to always win the first ball or they risk conceding. It also requires a capable goalkeeper who is brave enough to step up and collect crosses.
Mignolet can hardly be faulted here. He cannot come out to collect an inswinging cross that curled in wickedly and the header is from close range. The Belgian has his arms outstretched as a goalkeeper should but has little time to react as the header comes off his arm rather than his hand before nestling into the side-netting.
The biggest issue with zonal marking is that players who are not so adept at defending (such as Firmino in this case) end up ball-watching instead of picking up the player coming into his 'zone'.
It is who Firmino makes two mistakes in this situation: 1) He does not attack the ball (the first rule of zonal marking on set pieces) and 2) He does not see the run of Okaka (who has already accelerated into space to make the jump and score).
Among the top sides, Liverpool have conceded the most goals from set-pieces. Signing 'leaders in defence' will solve nothing for Liverpool unless Klopp and his team coaches the system better.