Jack Hallows believes that Liverpool’s former inability to defend corners has now played into their hands as a new-found way of hurting opposition sides.
Liverpool were once the laughing stock of the Premier League for their inability to defend corners, set pieces and well… just about any high ball put into the box really.
The dreaded sight of our boys conceding a corner became a genuine joke.
Liverpool defenders were failing to track runs and ignoring two-on-one situations while Simon Mignolet came and enthusiastically flapped at thin air constantly.
Unsurprisingly, opposition sides began targeting set plays as a real way to get at Liverpool, using their own lack of awareness and defensive arrangement to hurt them.
This weakness has in truth not been so much of a problem over the last year or so, especially since the introduction of Virgil van Dijk and while pundits still try to highlight it as Liverpool’s weakness, it’s become one of their biggest strengths.
The willingness of opposition sides – especially those of a more physical nature, generally found lurking around the relegation zone – to overcommit bodies forward in an effort to make the most of the odd corner or long throw leaves them seriously exposed and Liverpool now possess the tools to exploit this.
The combination of height, assertiveness and defensive organisation that has been injected through the presence of Gomez or Lovren, van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho, means that the Reds no longer fail horrendously to defend initial balls into the box, or indeed second balls.
Virgil van Dijk, in particular, is incredible at getting his head on nearly everything that comes into the box and the distance he manages on headed clearances is a thing of beauty.
If of course, the opposition does get there first, then Alisson Becker is there to gather and this is where it gets interesting.
The Brazilian’s distribution looks to be second to none of the goalkeepers in the Premier League and with ridiculously pacy targets like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané to aim for, the counter-attack is very much on.
Think back to last season in the games at home to Arsenal and away to West Ham.
Ironically, neither van Dijk or Alisson were in the squad at this point but the Reds successfully defended corners in both fixtures, using them as the catalyst to launch brutal counter-attacks.
Against Arsenal, Mohamed Salah caught Hector Bellerin off guard, capitalising on the Gunners’ decision to throw everyone forward for the set-piece and once he’d dispossessed the Spaniard, there was never any stopping him. 3-0 Liverpool. Game, set, match and an impressive 4-0 victory was the end result.
Away at West Ham was a similar situation.
The Hammers were enjoying a good spell early in the game and it looked as if they’d brought about their moment. A set piece for a big West Ham side against Liverpool? In 2015 I’d have accepted that this meant 1-0 to the home side.
Last season however, it was a different kettle of fish altogether.
Joe Gomez got his head on the ball to clear and some neat work on the edge of our own box allowed Salah and Mané to run full pelt at the two West Ham defenders left on the half-way line.
The pace of our African duo was far too much for the Hammers to handle and the move ended with Mané unselfishly squaring for Salah to tap home his first of the game. 1-0 Liverpool and the stuffing was knocked out of the home side.
We won 4-1.
Fast forward to the opening fixture of this season and Liverpool very nearly capitalised in the exact same manner.
The Reds’ dealt easily with a West Ham corner and while the move eventually broke down, Alisson’s pass to Mohamed Salah and the lightning speed at which he and Sadio Mané are capable of combining and moving up the field was a wake up call for the visitors.
The pace of our attackers also means that Liverpool do not have to leave players waiting on the halfway line in the event that a ball is successfully cleared that far.
Both aforementioned moves from last season started in our own box, as did the potential counter-attacking situation last Sunday.
The pace in which Liverpool’s players are able to get their heads up, look for a teammate, find them and then get from one box to the other is genuinely frightening.
Aided by the extra defensive solidity when dealing with set-plays that Liverpool now possess, it would be no surprise to see us score a number of counter-attacking goals from opposition set pieces this season – especially against sides who rely on them so much against superior opposition such as West Ham.