Joseph Kavaloski discusses how signing Marko Grujic, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan will impact Liverpool.
Last season, Liverpool had one of the worst records in the Premier League when defending against set pieces. Plus, rarely were the Reds ever able to challenge opposition defenses from corners and set pieces. One of the key causes of this issue was Liverpool’s lack of height in the squad. This weakness affected set piece defending as well as the physicality of the team. When facing teams that relied on physicality in the midfield area, Liverpool was often bullied off the ball and physically dominated.
This summer, Klopp has worked hard to address this weakness by adding players that can handle the physical match-ups of the Premier League while also enhancing Liverpool’s threat in the air. Key signings such as Marko Grujic, Ragnar Klavan, and Joel Matip are all over 6 foot 2 and known for their aerial prowess. These additions will add a size dynamic that was previously missing from the squad.
Matip was brought in on a free transfer this summer from Schalke and at almost 6 foot 4 will do a lot towards helping the Reds’ set piece defending. The Cameroonian is known for his abilities in the air where he won 3.5 aerial duels per match last season. In attack, Matip scored three goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances last season, more than Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren’s domestic output combined. Matip is a big physical defender that can help Liverpool aerially on both ends of the pitch.
Klavan was brought in with far fewer expectations than Matip, but he is poised to have a significant role thanks to the Reds’ consistent injury problems in the back line. He is slightly shorter than Matip at 6 foot 1, but he has proven to be a very good aerial defender for Augsburg and even in his few appearances this preseason in a red shirt. Last year, Klavan won 64% of his 112 attempted aerial duels in the Bundesliga. This mark would have ranked him eighth among 19 qualified center backs in the Premier League. Klavan is a fundamentally sound defender that will bring toughness and consistency to Liverpool’s defensive unit. He will also be a significant upgrade on the athletically challenged Kolo Toure in aerial battles from open play and set pieces.
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Grujic is another addition by Klopp that measures in at 6 foot 3 who is known for his physical potential. The Serb has showcased his aerial capabilities with a fantastic headed goal against Barcelona in the preseason, and can be extremely useful in adding a physical presence to Liverpool’s midfield. The role Grujic will play this season at such a young age is still unclear, but the upside he has shown this preseason suggests he may receive more playing time than most fans anticipated. When on the pitch, Grujic has shown an ability to bully opposition players off the ball while proving a real threat in the air. Facing larger midfield players such as Marouane Fellaini that have dominated Liverpool’s smaller midfielders has been a problem in the past for the Reds. Grujic’s size could be one factor that helps change this issue from a weakness to a strength.
All three of Klavan, Matip, and Grujic have proven thus far in the preseason that they can help change the negative perception of Liverpool’s aerial capabilities. Plus, each player adds a physicality to the game that can prevent the Reds from being physically dominated by opposing teams. The Premier League is the most physical league in the world, and the Reds have had issues coping with these demands that are an integral part of the Premier League. Klopp has recognized this problem by adding three players that can be direct solutions. Plus, releasing Kolo Toure and selling Joe Allen and Martin Skrtel subtracted three players that only enhanced these problems. In order to consistently reach the top four, the Reds need to have a well-rounded squad. This transfer window, Klopp has made a number of moves to bolster the defense and the midfield that can help accomplish this goal.