Clarke: Defence key to Reds revival
Liverpool coach Steve Clarke believes work done on tightening up their defence has been rewarded in a season's-best run of four successive victories.
Clean sheets against Wolves, Fulham, Stoke and Chelsea have allowed the Reds to close the gap on the UEFA Champions League places to six points. Liverpool have risen to sixth in the Premier League, their highest position of the campaign so far, and confidence and performances have improved hugely since Kenny Dalglish took over a as manager month ago and brought in Clarke to help on the training ground.
The former Chelsea assistant manager has been credited with having a significant influence on the team's defensive improvement and while it is an area on which he has focused he does not want to be singled out for praise. "Your success is always based on how you defend," he said.
"If you defend well as a team and don't concede goals then you will always give yourself a chance to win the game. I know it sounds like an old cliche and it's really simple but the basis of any good team is built on a strong defence. It has been good for us in the last few games not to have let any goals in. It's good for Pepe (Reina), it's good for the confidence of everybody and hopefully we can continue that."
In the last two matches, against Stoke and Chelsea, Liverpool have surprised their opponents by fielding three centre-backs in a change of formation. That, again, was put down to Clarke's influence but he said the players had to be commended for adapting so quickly.
"It's good when you've changed the formation a bit and you win," he added. "Most of the credit has to go to the players. They are the people that go on the pitch and they have to put that into practice and they've done that very well recently.
"I have been impressed with their attitude since I first came to the club. Even at the start when it was more difficult to get a result on the training ground you could see the players were working and they were hungry. They wanted to take on board what we trying to tell them and hopefully the recent results are a reflection on how they have trained."
Liverpool's run of results has led to renewed optimism for the final four months of the season. However, if the Reds are to stand a chance of mounting a late bid for Champions League qualification they have to maintain their momentum. It was something which they were unable to do back in November when a three-match winning run - which included victory over Chelsea - was brought to an end in a 1-1 draw at Wigan, coincidentally the opponents at Anfield on Saturday.
The Latics are something of a bogey side for the Merseysiders, who have won just two of their last six encounters. Clarke insists they will not be taking the visitors lightly at the weekend. "It's good for the manager and the coaching staff when you are getting results," he said.
"The club when we came here were in a false position and it was important to put that right. The only way you do that is by winning games and we have shown that when you string together a good couple of wins then you quickly go up the table. We are in a better position now but we are certainly not in a position that Liverpool Football Club should be at, we want to be higher.
"But I think you only have to look at recent results in the Barclays Premier League to know that everybody is dangerous. We have to be on our guard but we also have to be confident and sure of ourselves and think we are looking like a good side again. We want to continue that and pick up another three points and keep looking at the teams above us."