Liverpool have one of the most frightening attacks, not only in England, but in Europe. It is filled with quality and pace and can see them rip opponents apart.
However, it is in defence where Jurgen Klopp’s side struggled most last season. They conceded 42 goals in the Premier League which is a remarkable 16 goals more than the league’s best defence, Tottenham Hotspur.
Klopp’s systematic errors
Of course, it isn’t as simple as Liverpool having poor defenders. In fact, it is the system Klopp uses that causes the Reds to give up so many chances and goals. They push a lot of men forward in the attack to ‘gegenpress‘ the opposition.
If the attack breaks down or the press is broken, Liverpool end up with a lot of men now behind the ball and space for the opposition to attack. It can lead to a defence that becomes extremely exposed, which can also lead to individual errors.
The issue is that it leaves the back four isolated in one-on-one situations and none have sufficient quality to actually handle them adequately. It puts a lot of pressure on the defenders who, frankly, struggle to cope.
However, although the tactics Klopp employs will need adjustments if Liverpool truly want to progress, there is little doubt they could do with better quality at centre-back.
Five better centre-backs
The German said there aren’t five better centre-backs out there than the ones he currently has at his disposal.
“Look out there and tell me five that would make us stronger. Five. Then you win a prize.” -Klopp on his defence after a 3-1 friendly win over Athletic Bilbao.
That is quite clearly not true, with Klopp trying to give some confidence to his current batch of centre-backs, and maybe even trying to reduce the price Southampton have set for Virgil van Dijk if he threatens to walk away from the deal.
Liverpool’s current options
Klopp’s current first choice pairing consists of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, with Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez acting as back up. It is decent, but certainly not title-winning-worthy.
Matip had a very good first season in the Premier League by all accounts and has the makings to be one of the best centre-backs in Europe. However, aside from him, Liverpool can greatly improve in that area.
Croatian Lovren has largely struggled at Anfield since his big money move from Southampton. He has often proved erratic, uncomfortable with the ball at his feet with a defensive error always brewing.
In truth, he did develop a good partnership with Matip, and Liverpool went unbeaten for 14 games when the pair played together, but without the Cameroonian to cover, Lovren struggled and there is no doubt he can be improved upon.
Ragnar Klavan is a decent squad player at best, but isn’t top of the table quality and Joe Gomez is a talented young English defender, though he’s just returned from a serious injury and can not be relied on due to this factor and subsequent inexperience.
Is Klopp too stubborn with Sakho?
Liverpool do still, of course, have Frenchman Mamadou Sakho on their books, who was superb whilst on loan at Crystal Palace. However, he continues to be in exile from the first team, which is bizarre considering he is probably Liverpool’s best defender.
The issue is that Klopp’s personal pride and stubbornness could threaten to undermine Liverpool’s defence. Seemingly with no suitors for Sakho’s signature, it makes little sense to prolong the exile if the Frenchman is an upgrade on current personnel.
However, in fairness to Klopp, Sakho thrived in Palace’s compact and low block defensive structure where playing out from the back isn’t crucial. He often looked out of his depth playing in Liverpool’s high line with instructions to pass out from the back.
A move away from Anfield looks inevitable.
The need for a new centre-back
It is clear then, Liverpool still need a new centre back, even if Dutchman van Dijk proves unattainable. In truth, top level central defenders are few and far between in today’s game.
A lot of the defensive intelligence and know-how from ten plus years ago largely seems to have vanished from today’s game, instead focusing on what players can do with the ball, rather than without it.
However, if Klopp wants to win a first Premier League title for Liverpool, the four he has at his disposal aren’t good enough, especially in the rather open tactics the German uses.
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