News, Culture & Society

Liverpool Q&A: What is going wrong at the back?

Liverpool’s hopes of securing a place in the last-16 of the Champions League remain in the balance after they surrendered a three-goal lead in against Sevilla on Tuesday.

Jurgen Klopp’s side raced into a 3-0 lead in Spain thanks to goals from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. But a second-half implosion means they still need to beat Spartak Moscow in their final group game to be assured of top spot in Group E.

Here Sportsmail answers some of the key questions surrounding Liverpool’s defensive issues and ponders what can be done to solve them.

Liverpool threw away a three-goal lead against Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday 

But how bad are the Reds' defensive problems and how can Jurgen Klopp try and solve them? 

But how bad are the Reds’ defensive problems and how can Jurgen Klopp try and solve them? 

How bad is it? 

It’s hard to find many crumbs of comfort in the wake of Liverpool’s collapse in Seville. As was the case when they travelled to Manchester City and Tottenham earlier in the season, Klopp’s side crumpled under pressure in a big game.

In their 12 league matches so far this season, Liverpool have conceded 17 goals. Watford are the only team in the top half to have conceded more. In Europe, too, they have let leads slip in both games against Sevilla. 

But there is undoubtedly an element of confirmation bias surrounding Liverpool’s back four. Having (rightly) developed a reputation for defensive frailty over a number of years, the impact of any implosion is magnified.

Before Tuesday night, the Reds had kept 10 clean sheets in their previous 18 league matches – as many as any team in the division. But it is the performances at Wembley, the Etihad and now in Seville that will stick in the memory.

Guido Pizarro fired home in stoppage time for Sevilla after Liverpool failed to clear a corner

Guido Pizarro fired home in stoppage time for Sevilla after Liverpool failed to clear a corner

Where are they going wrong?

Liverpool have an issue at set-pieces, that much seems obvious. So far this season the Reds have conceded five league goals from dead ball situations. Only five teams have a worse record.

The tone was set at Watford on the opening day of the season, when Liverpool let slip a lead in the dying moments by conceding from a corner. These problems are not new.

But to suggest their struggles are limited to defending corners and free-kicks would be too kind. Even at full strength, Liverpool have been cut to shreds by the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham in recent months, with their midfield often too-easily bypassed and error-prone centre backs left exposed by attacking full-backs.

They were prone to collapse longer before Klopp arrived on Merseyside, though. Only the free-scoring Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge prevented their 2013-14 title charge from derailing amid defensive failures. Until that night at Selhurst Park, that is.

Liverpool were torn apart by Dele Alli and Co at Wembley earlier in the Premier League season

Liverpool were torn apart by Dele Alli and Co at Wembley earlier in the Premier League season

Why are they having these problems? 

Among any solid defensive unit, you will usually find some, if not all, of the following: An assertive goalkeeper, a commanding centre back and adequate defensive cover.

The problem for Liverpool, is that they’re lacking in all three key areas (and have been for a number of years). 

Simon Mignolet has shown great mental strength to overcome a constant stream of criticism and retain his place in the league. But he still appears to induce panic, rather than calm, among his team-mates, while Loris Karius remains a work in progress.

None of Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren or Ragnar Klavan has proven himself to be the type of leader Liverpool require, for all their (varying) qualities.

Loris Karius (left) has so far failed to solve Liverpool's goalkeeping problems since joining 

Loris Karius (left) has so far failed to solve Liverpool’s goalkeeping problems since joining 

Nor has Jordan Henderson fully convinced defensively in the No 6 role. The England midfielder is a crucial member of Liverpool’s side, keeping them ticking over in possession. 

He has come on defensively, too, but is he providing the kind of defensive shield Liverpool need? The way in which the Reds back four have been exposed this season suggests he needs help. 

Who or what is to blame?

Under their current coaching set-up, there is no one solely responsible for Liverpool’s back four. As a former defender, Klopp prides himself on being a ‘really good defensive coach’. But as he admitted earlier this season: ‘Obviously that has worked not too well so far’.

Around him are his two trusted assistants Zeljko Buvac and Peter Krawietz. They have not hung around from previous regimes, even if the Reds’ defensive problems have.

Their philosophy of heavy-metal football is high-energy, high-risk and hardly conducive to defensive stability.

But bad luck has played its part, too. Since the start of last season, Liverpool have been hampered by injuries to Matip, Lovren and Joe Gomez, robbing them of a consistent defensive unit.

Klopp will no doubt face further calls to add a specialist defensive coach to his backroom staff

Klopp will no doubt face further calls to add a specialist defensive coach to his backroom staff

They have also been hampered by Loris Karius’ teething problems and the fact that many of their defensive players are error prone.

The likes of Mignolet and Lovren are not making howlers deliberately, of course. But there comes a point where a coach can only do so much. He cannot stop a miskick or a moment of horrendous misjudgement.

Klopp and sporting director, Michael Edwards, can be held responsible for failing to replace these players, though. Ragnar Klavan was brought in as back up. But the Reds’ failure to bring in anyone else — bar Joel Matip — has seen him elevated to a more important role than anticipated.

The fact remains, however: Liverpool had defensive problems when Klopp arrived and their back five has barely changed since then.

What can be done about it?

If I knew all the answers to this question, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article. But here goes.

The most simple solution would be for the Reds to buy new players and Liverpool sought (but failed) to bring in Virgil van Dijk over the summer.

The centre back’s performances for Southampton suggest he would improve the Reds’ back four. 

Liverpool tried and failed to sign Southampton centre back Virgil van Dijk over the summer

Liverpool tried and failed to sign Southampton centre back Virgil van Dijk over the summer

But the same was said about Dejan Lovren before he arrived from St. Mary’s. And he has gone on to become the symbol of their defensive problems. Simon Mignolet, too, looked brilliant for Sunderland before moving to Merseyside. 

That implies one — or both — of the following is true: There is a systemic problem at Liverpool that is making good players look worse and a back-four appear less than the sum of its parts. Or, under the constant scrutiny that comes for playing for Liverpool, neither has proved as good as first thought.

If it’s the latter, simply throwing money at new players hardly seems a foolproof plan. 

Klopp will, like his predecessor Brendan Rodgers, face calls to bring in a defensive coach. But the hardly-transformative effect Steve Bould has had at Arsenal should act as a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that simple solution will bring results.

So will they sign anyone? 

As Klopp showed last January, when he resisted making any signings despite a terrible downturn in results, he is not the type for knee-jerk reactions.

The German will almost certainly refuse to bring in any new players in January unless he is convinced they will improve his squad. He will not simply bow to fan pressure. 

But, per reports in recent days, Klopp is expected to go back in for Van Dijk when the window opens after Christmas. Tuesday night’s shambles may only sharpen his focus. 

Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren react after Wissam Ben Yedder cut their lead in Seville

Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren react after Wissam Ben Yedder cut their lead in Seville

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Do you like it? Share with your friends!


Comments are closed.