It appears Liverpool’s difficulties in defence are starting to take their toll on manager Jurgen Klopp.
Thanks Ross Webber for this guest post! Follow him on Twitter, here: @RossWebber1
In his post match interview after the Leicester City defeat in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, Klopp vented his frustrations by claiming he was “sick” of conceding the same type of goal.
There’s no doubt many fans will point the finger at Klopp and regurgitate the ever-tiring argument as to why the club didn’t bring in Virgil Van Dijk during the summer.
Undeniably, the Dutch centre-back would improve the defence, but Liverpool’s problems at the back run much deeper than just the personnel.
It’s not a new issue, but just in the last three games alone, the goals that have been conceded have all been desperately avoidable.
Let’s start with the Sevilla game last week. Huge anticipation for the long awaited return of Champions League football back at Anfield – but this is shattered in the space of six minutes. Little needs to be said about the opening goal that Liverpool conceded from Wassim Ben Yedder as it was just another calamitous error from Dejan Lovren. The second was equally as painful as Sevilla’s Luis Muriel strolled behind the midfield to feed Andrea Correa who was allowed acres of space in the box to finish.
Tracking runners and not getting tight to players has been a huge issue for Liverpool in the last couple of years under Klopp. It’s a recurring theme where the full back is squared up to on the wing, the centre backs are occupied by the strikers in the middle and an untracked runner is allowed to stroll into the box.
With no disrespect to Lucas, the club has been crying out for a genuine holding midfielder for a long time – someone who is going to bully the opposition and protect his back four. All top teams around Europe have at least one of these players, yet Liverpool arguably haven’t had someone of this ilk since they had Javier Mascherano in their ranks.
For now, the trio of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum must do a better job of easing the pressure on their back four. Klopp has to implement that as there have been plenty of occasions when midfielder runners are not tracked and there is very little Joel Matip and co can do when they are already occupied with opposition attackers in the middle.
Similarly, more has to come defensively from the full backs in certain situations. All four that have featured on both flanks have been praised for their offensive duties so far this season but again, they must do more to protect their own goal.
Andy Robertson has been a positive addition to the squad, offering competition in the left back position and proving very handy in the opposition half with his dangerous crossing. But he was at fault for Burnley’s goal last Saturday after failing to cover his central defenders and charge down Scott Arfield’s strike and this type of error is a regular occurrence.
This has been the case on a number of occasions over the last couple of years where opposition players have been given far too much time in the Liverpool penalty area as a result of a lack of cover for the central defenders from full backs as well as midfielders.
On the topic of centre backs, one frailty in the Liverpool defence, which is no secret, is set pieces. This is where the argument of a new centre-back is irrelevant as it is purely down to coaching and tactics. Liverpool could have Franco Baresi in their defence and they would still struggle to defend the corners and free kicks that are pumped into the box because the set-up is all wrong.
Fans hold their breath and pray that there isn’t a second ball up for contention because more often than not, panic sets in and the opposition pounce. The zonal marking set up has failed on so many occasions and very nearly cost Liverpool last week when Burnley’s Ben Mae had two consecutive chances from corners late on to almost snatch the victory.
Admittedly, given the style of play Klopp has implemented at Anfield, it’s hard to find a balance between all out attack and forward thinking as opposed to solid defensive work and building from the back.
The concern therefore is just how successful Liverpool will be with this attacking mentality and whether Klopp needs to adapt to more defensive approach.
Looking back, one of the most successful Liverpool managers in the last 30 years is the defensive minded Rafael Benitez and on a larger scale, most of the prosperous teams in the history of world football have had that same mentality.
Klopp remains the right man for Liverpool and he has come close to success on a number of occasions already. But these defensive issues must be addressed if he is to lift trophies with the club.