”I heard it a few times (that Liverpool are suspect defensively) but I lose respect when people say this. That’s not important because I do not have to respect everybody and I don’t need most of the people”, said Jurgen Klopp following Liverpool’s 2-1 win over West Brom in October 2016.
The statement made by Klopp after that match was only a testament to the fact that he had become frustrated with many pundits’ opinions suggesting that Liverpool’s defense was too weak to win the Premier League title.
At that time, Klopp seemed to have full belief in the ability of his defenders to protect his team- which is quite understandable though.
But, as the season progressed, the truth became clearer to Klopp; especially after Swansea became the first away team to win a league fixture at Anfield for more than a year.
Roberto Firmino’s goals had helped the Reds recover from a 2-0 deficit. But, Gylfi Sigurdsson struck the winner 16 minutes from time and condemned Klopp-led side to a defeat.
An obviously furious Klopp said after the game: “We showed again that when we are on track, we are a strong side and can really create chances and score goals. But the defending around all three goals today was not good enough – 100 per cent. That’s a very important part of the game and it was very disappointing today.”
Klopp was indeed spot on with his post-match conference. Liverpool’s defense on that day was poor; poor to the extent that a then relegation-battled Swansea team would score three goals at Anfield.
But, surprisingly, Klopp didn’t make any major tactical change in his team’s defense as his team went on to concede more goals in the league. Little wonder an angry Jamie Carragher, who once played as a Liverpool defender, lamented after Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to Leicester City last season.
‘Liverpool have been one of the best attacks in the league this season…But there’s no way you can win anything conceding that amount of goals. It’s just impossible’, he opined.
Leaking goals left and right
Carragher’s opinion was clearly justified. Statistics shows that The Reds have conceded almost exactly 1.3 goals per game in the past four seasons.
This was evident last season as the club conceded 42 goals in just 38 premier league games; the worst of any of the top-six teams last season.
More worrying is the fact that of the 42 goals conceded, 20 came as a result of set-pieces- a proof that the defenders didn’t do enough.
Apart from the goals conceded, the overall defensive performance of the team wasn’t impressing. Only 46% of aerial duels was won by the team last season.
Klopp should have sorted it out last season
The defensive problem of the team can’t be totally blamed on Jurgen Klopp though. For example, Klopp’s former team Borussia Dortmund only made 34 defensive errors throughout his 3-year stay at the club.
But, since he took charge, the Reds have made about 40 defensive errors in the league; 32 of them made in the penultimate season.
One can then opine that the defense of the club was already not good enough before Klopp joined. But, Klopp could and should have done something about it last season.
Sadly for the fans, he did nothing to better the defense. Truly, all the defensive frailties culminated as Liverpool finished the season winning nothing; although their fans would take the frequently-eluded Champions League spot as consolation.
But, Liverpool fans deserve more than just qualifying for a Champion League tourney they will probably not win with the team’s current defense.
A proper attack needs a proper defense
In fact, a team with good attacking-minded players like Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Mane and (now the addition of) Salah can only prosper if properly protected by good defenders.
Scoring goals is no longer a problem for Liverpool. But, Klopp should know that scoring goals alone is not enough. The goals scored must also be defended. Klopp should pay more attention to his defense, if he truly wants to make his team a formidable side.
A world-class central defender, that will give the likes of Sakho, Matip and Lovren stiff competition, is still very much needed to make his team a strong contender for the coming Premier League season.
Signing Virgil van Dijk from Southampton would do the team’s central defense a lot of good. Also, constantly playing Milner at the left-back position and using an unreliable Moreno as his back-up may not keep the defense strong for a whole season.
Klopp needs to bring a more experienced left-back defender to add more steel to that department.
Good defenders win you titles
With Wijnaldum, Can and Henderson still at the club, it looks very unlikely that Klopp will bring in a defensive midfielder. But, Klopp should endeavour to tactically make his current defensive midfielder(s) offer more protection for the defense.
Liverpool may be currently led by attackers who are like ”Lions”, but if the defenders who are as weak as ”Sheep” continue to protect the team, Jurgen Klopp will end up achieving nothing.
Yes, good attackers may win you games. But, good defenders will win you titles.