Whilst we have just played two of the best teams in the country, we have had some weaknesses massively exposed and they are weaknesses that we need addressing urgently.
I have been banging on about our inability to keep clean sheets since September. We’re always good for a goal and have taken the lead in our last two games. But because we give so many cheap goals away (usually from a set piece) we aren’t always winning games we should.
Even the goalkeeper, who I have been praising all season long, has started to make clangers that are costing us points. Whilst Mignolet has plenty of credit after some of his outstanding performances earlier in the season he was at fault for Negredo’s goal at the Etihad and I thought he should have done a lot better with Eto’o’s eventual winner at Stamford Bridge.
If the Belgian is in credit, then Martin Skrtel and particularly Glen Johnson are purveyors of bad debt. Skrtel’s core defending is pretty good, he reads the game well and makes some fantastic last ditch challenges. But he is currently a liability and had Sakho not come off injured in the closing stages on Sunday I would be calling for him to be dropped.
He was too busy trying to foul Kompany at the Etihad to stop him from getting his header in and he completely switched off to allow Eto’o to get in front of him at Chelsea. He has also been lucky to not concede several penalties in recent weeks, especially against Cardiff at Anfield. If he concentrated on defending he could be a very good player but you always fear that he has a catastrophe lurking around the corner.
This is something that he urgently needs to address – start winning headers instead of trying to swap shirts. He’s good with the ball at his feet and is a good attacking threat at set pieces but he is swiftly becoming a big danger to us.
But my biggest worry is Glen Johnson. The full back has been in awful form in the last few months and it seems to correlate with a spate of rumours circulating about his contract. When he was injured there were whispers circulating that the American owners had offered Johnson a new contract on reduced terms from summer 2014.
Whilst I’m not saying this is the case, I will absolutely say that some of his performances have become lazy, disinterested and damaging to the team. His defensive positioning has always been suspect but the other facets of his game have been way off recently. His touch is heavy and his passing sloppy and lazy.
Maybe he’s injured or just in a poor rut of form, but I think Glen Johnson’s body language is all wrong. And he needs to remedy this issue very quickly, because we can’t afford people to ball watch as he did with Hazard for Chelsea’s equaliser. A spectacular finish it might have been, but Johnson just let Hazard run past him and was nowhere to be seen as he slammed the ball in.
We’re fifth, and there’s no cause to panic just yet. If we beat Hull on New Year’s Day (and we had better) then there’s some normality restored and we’re back in the saddle. We haven’t become bad at defending overnight and we have been dealing with some good players in the past week or so. But we are now at the point where we have to be asking whether or not some players are worth their place in the team, because individual mistakes are at severe risk of costing us our excellent start to the season to date.