Liverpool: Four ways Jurgen Klopp can fix his defensive problems

Liverpool's defensive problems this season have been well-documented. Jon Mackenzie suggests four ways that Jurgen Klopp could go about fixing the issues.

It has become a bit run of the mill to criticise Liverpool’s defence this season. But when you look beneath the surface, it’s easy to see why.

Leeching 17 goals in 11 games in the league, Klopp has the worst record in the top six of the Premier League and his 17 goals conceded is worse than three of the teams in the bottom five.

With only four clean sheets in the league with two of them, counter-intuitively, coming against Arsenal and Manchester United, Liverpool’s defensive problems are clearly not reserved for the best teams.

In fact, the litany of clubs against whom they have conceded goals includes such sides as Leicester City, Newcastle and West Ham – hardly prolific teams on this season’s showing.

Jurgen Klopp, then, clearly needs to change something if his team are going to have any chance of a top-four place come the end of the season. Jon Mackenzie has four suggestions for how he could go about doing this.

  1. 1 Go three at the back

    Going three at the back has been the go-to solution for a lot of Premier League managers over the course of the last few seasons. 

    Whilst it might seem madness for a team like Liverpool - who are struggling to find two competent centre backs - to find a third competent centre back, it is important to learn the lesson of David Luiz.

    Last season, eyebrows were raised when Antonio Conte splashed out £40 million for the Brazilian defender but, after a poor start to the season, the Italian manager switched to a back three with Luiz at the centre and Chelsea promptly went on to win the Premier League title.

    In a back three, the two outside defenders play as the two centre backs in a back four allowing the third player to operate as a sweeper. For Luiz, this maximised his utility -augmenting his strengths and preventing him from getting into the sorts of scenarios that highlighted his weaknesses.

    For Liverpool, playing Dejan Lovren in this role might actually revitalise his career - reducing his defensive responsibilities whilst freeing him up to have more time and space on the ball.


  2. 2 Move Joe Gomez into the middle

    Since the start of the season, Joe Gomez has come into the Liverpool team and impressed enough to earn himself an England call-up. Of course, the more cynical amongst us might point out that these days an England call-up is hardly indicative of a bright footballing future, but Gomez's rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

    What is more impressive about Gomez's Liverpool career so far is that he has generally played out of position on the right-hand side of a back four. Even playing as a right back, the youngster has looked good, although as Manuel Lanzini showed at the weekend, he is still a little suspect in the air in wide positions.

    A centre back by trade, Gomez was shifted into the middle during Liverpool's car-crash afternoon at Wembley once Dejan Lovren was hauled off by his manager. Gomez promptly went about making a strong case that he is Liverpool's second strongest centre back option.

    Gomez offers a decent prospect to play in the middle even if Klopp chooses to go three at the back and could offer one solution to tightening the back line.


  3. 3 Tweak the midfield

    There is a common misconception amongst football fans - and even sometimes pundits - that defensive frailty is always the fault of the back line. It is important to remember, though, that - at least in modern football - defending is something that is carried out by the team as a unit.

    For an example, think back to Liverpool's opening fixture against Watford: a match that the Reds went on to draw after going into extra time a goal to the good. The equaliser came from a corner which Georginio Wijnaldum failed to clear.

    In terms of their on-going weaknesses, it is important to note that Jurgen Klopp favours something between a 4-3-3 formation or a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. In both formations, the defence is shielded by one more defensive midfielder - the number 6 in modern parlance.

    The best way for Klopp to give his defence more protection is to increase the number of midfielders shielding the defence. This would take a certain amount of pressure off the centre backs - particularly when the two fullbacks are encouraged to push forwards.  


  4. 4 Start playing Danny Ward

    Another aspect of defensive frailty that is often overlooked is the importance of the goalkeeper to the proper functioning of a back line.

    One of the funnier tropes about Liverpool's past few seasons is that their goalkeepers tend to be calamitous. Take your pick from anyone from a list of Simon Mignolet, Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan and you will find yourself with a keeper who has at, one time or another, produced a howler between the sticks. 

    Even when Loris Karius was brought in from the Bundesliga to solve these problems, he too proved accident-prone causing many Liverpool fans to ask what the goalkeeping coaches employed by the club were up to.

    As soon as a defence loses faith in their keeper, though, it compounds any other defensive problems. Any hesitancy on the part of a defence when they are looking to deal with a ball under pressure can lead to mistakes and, more often than not, these scenarios can result in goals.

    Twenty-four-year-old Danny Ward has been at the club for five years. In this time he has had loan spells at Morecambe, Aberdeen and Huddersfield Town, picking up 84 first-team appearances in the process. 

    A far more assured prospect than Mignolet and Karius, it could be time for Jurgen Klopp to start bringing Ward into the team to see whether or not it solves the defensive problems at Liverpool.

     What do you think? Let us know in the comments below

  1. Can Jurgen Klopp solve Liverpool's problems at the back?

    1. Yes - with a bit of tweaking he can
    2. No - Liverpool's defence is a hopeless case
    3. No - the problems can be fixed but he's not the man to do it
    68 votes
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Jon Mackenzie

Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, Tifo Football and on the Futbolgrad Network.

A UEFA and Premier League-accredited journalist, Jon also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie