Why it’s too soon to panic about Liverpool’s defence

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Nathaniel Clyne training at Melwood.

Rutwiz Kulkarni argues that it may be too soon for Liverpool’s defence to be heavily criticised.

Liverpool travelled to Selhurst Park at the weekend and emerged victorious over Crystal Palace. A final 4-2 scoreline might suggest that the travelling side put in a convincing performance, however, it was anything but that during the initial 30 minutes of the game.

The Reds gave up the lead twice in 33 minutes and there was the usual frustration among the fans with the defence. The frustration was as per usual, the reaction to the team after conceding, however, it was unlike what we are used to seeing. How many times have we seen Liverpool lose their tempo after conceding a goal? This time, though, a fighting attitude that Klopp has developed in this team was starkly visible during their London outing with both Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren getting themselves on the scoresheet.

Joel Matip was signed after Klopp identified Liverpool’s aerial weakness at the back as the main reason for their leakage of goals at set-pieces. The 6’4” centre-back does offer that but it appears that Liverpool is still conceding goals through set-pieces every other game.

They do, however, outscore opponents thanks to the brilliance of their attackers but the Reds’ defence still appears to be a weakness. Goalkeeper Loris Karius is still adapting to the new environment and looks shaky between the sticks and with his distribution. Dejan Lovren has grown in stature ever since Klopp arrived on Merseyside but he can be blamed for both the goals conceded against Palace. His defensive partners Joel Matip, Nathaniel Clyne and Jame Milner, however, look a bit more confident with their duties.

Clyne and Milner have done quite well defensively and also going forward but that hasn’t stopped opponents scoring 13 goals in 10 goals against the Reds. Right now, with 23 points each, only goal difference separates Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City, who sit at the top of the table.

With three teams tied for the top spot and teams like Tottenham and Chelsea lurking, it won’t be a surprise if goal difference decides what happens at the end of the season, and if Liverpool is to challenge for the title, it can’t be done with goals scored alone. The 18 times league title winners have to reduce the number of goals they concede.

Reducing the number of goals conceded might sound like a broad statement but Liverpool’s defence isn’t as flawed as it seems. Before the Crystal Palace game, Liverpool went six games without conceding a goal from open play and among the goals scored by the Eagles, one was from a Lovren mistake where James McArthur had to just head the ball home and the other one was when Lovren wasn’t able to deal with an incoming cross from Wilfried Zaha which McArthur again put it in the back of the net.

The only thing the Reds lack is ruthlessness in defence. The defenders look very cautious and hesitant when the ball is in the box or when a cross is whipped in which leads to a mistake or a more physical opponent pouncing on the opportunity. This mentality that Liverpool is vulnerable to aerial bombardment looks to have affected the way the defenders do their job. Most of the goals Liverpool conceded have been of a similar fashion and this can be eradicated with a little aggression within the defenders and the goalkeeper. The ruthlessness will come with time.

These are some of the best talents in the world of football. Loris Karius is one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe and was an integral part of Mainz’s success last season, Joel Matip was one of the best centre-backs in the Bundesliga last season and Nathaniel Clyne has been consistently performing since arriving at Anfield and even before that for Southampton and is arguably one of the best right backs in the league at the moment.

Dejan Lovren has had a mixed career in a Liverpool shirt but has only got better since Klopp took over. One thing that every fan knows about the former Southampton defender is his ability and James Milner at left back has been the highlight of the Reds’ success this season with the now retired England international gaining widespread praise for his versatility.

Liverpool also have the talented Joe Gomez and the experienced Ragnar Klavan as a backup, as well as Alberto Moreno and Simon Mignolet who, despite being dropped from the side, have impressed with their commitment and attitude.

On top of all this, these players know what it is like to play for a club like Liverpool and it’s about time that they start performing to their best and when they do, this might be one of the best defences the club has ever had. So, it may well be a bit too soon to start criticising the Liverpool defence.

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