Martin King explains why Jürgen Klopp deserves blame for Liverpool’s defensive problems with issues at the back for the Reds ongoing.
“It would be easy to look at this team and say, ‘It is so exciting how they play’, but I am not sure if it is the world in general or a Liverpool thing but we’re always looking for one thing we can be angry about and not happy with.”
So spoke Jürgen Klopp in a press conference ahead of his side’s Premier League match at home to Burnley last week.
The Liverpool manager was in the middle of answering yet another question on his team’s defence and was, as ever, admitting to his players’ faults yet taking a very defensive stance towards his side’s problems, making it seem as though the watching media are blowing them out of proportion.
However, that isn’t quite the case Jürgen. Liverpool’s problems aren’t being over-exaggerated, neither is the watching world constantly looking for something to be discontent with because only one thing falls under that category – and it is as evident as a flashing red light.
Enter (again) Liverpool’s defensive issues.
A lot has been made of what has now become the Merseyside club’s only point of criticism, with fans and pundits expressing different opinions over what the core of the problem is and who deserves blame. Does it all point to Klopp’s rotation policy, the German’s playing system, one or two poor individuals, a lack of protection from midfield or Liverpool’s back four altogether?
In fairness, all five sides can be argued for or against Klopp, but perhaps the biggest issue behind every single one of them, that renders the German deserving of all blame is his failure (and/or refusal) to invest in his back-line this past summer.
Monkey see, monkey do
This old phrase describes one who imitates another’s actions by simply having watched them before and though it’s often used in a negative connotation, it is – from a Liverpool perspective – something manager Klopp should’ve done with regards to his defence in the past transfer window.
Have a look at four of Liverpool’s strongest Premier League rivals in Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Over the summer transfer window, the quartet witnessed a lot of ins and outs in terms of personnel, however, knowing that each of them are very well gifted in attack, their most important pieces of business came in the form of defensive reinforcements.
Champions Chelsea signed centre-back Antonio Rüdiger and right-back Davide Zappacosta, Manchester City sanctioned a great outlay on full-backs Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo, Manchester United brought in Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof whilst Tottenham Hotspur (easily the best defending team in the league) broke their transfer record to purchase Ajax Amsterdam’s Davinson Sánchez.
To put it simply, Klopp should’ve moved mountains to ensure that similar business was done for his Liverpool side.
A point that can be made to challenge this statement is that Liverpool did indeed try such with Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, even risking strong punishment in pursuit of the Dutch defender. However, take a good look in the mirror and the club would realize that in the same way they persistently took the ‘NOT FOR SALE’ stance with midfielder Philippe Coutinho, Southampton were never going to alter theirs for any club at any price.
Therefore, pursuing other targets was compulsory, especially knowing that another van Dijk suitor in Chelsea did just that, eventually settling for German defender Rüdiger (monkey see, monkey do, yes?).
Paying the price for costly decisions
Whether it is down to stubbornness on Klopp’s part or poor decision-making from both the German and his transfer committee that Liverpool ended the summer of 2017 without a genuine defensive mastermind, the Reds are and will continue to pay for it dearly.
Look back to the 3-3 draw at Watford, the 5-0 humbling at Manchester City, the 2-2 at home to Sevilla and most recently the 1-1 at home to Burnley. All of these results are consistently undermining the success Klopp is trying to achieve at Liverpool and throwing a tantrum over a Lovren blunder really doesn’t amount to much, because it all points back to the manager who decided against investing heavily in his defence, in order to blindly insist on placing faith in the same players.
Add to that the German’s revelation (this one destroyed me) that he watched possible van Dijk alternatives Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) and Tottenham’s Sánchez “500 million times” and yet still decided against pursuing them as targets and there should be no surprise at the sight of Liverpool’s continued conceding of poor goals, while Spurs walk away from most matches with a clean sheet intact.
Obviously signing Koulibaly or Sánchez alone may not completely rid Liverpool of defensive trouble, which is why there is no law against any side purchasing more than two defenders in one transfer window.
Liverpool need that kind of investment but that Klopp hasn’t taken the option will continue to prove costly for his side time and time again.
Insanity is – according to the legend that is Albert Einstein – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
In Klopp’s case, it’s putting trust in the same players over and over again and expecting different results to the ones Liverpool are currently experiencing, it just never works!
The Reds next face four difficult away fixtures, starting with two trips to Leicester City this week in the Carabao Cup and the Premier League respectively.
The German obviously can’t tinker with his side any more than he already has this season, however, their performance at the back will be crucial, as they could prove the difference between Liverpool still being in four competitions and retaining their confidence, to be knocked out and their hopes of having a successful season hanging by a thread even this early on.
As things stand – and despite their recent wastefulness in front of goal – the Reds’ attack should be immune from harsh criticism because it’s already a well-known fact: any viewer is going to get at least two goals in each game from the Anfield strike-force, however, the problem comes when three to five goals have to be scored in order for Liverpool to secure a result each week.
And that problem, once again, goes back to their defence, who simply can’t keep a clean-sheet.
Blame, however, shouldn’t go the way of the back-four (they have already failed) but the way of Klopp, who hasn’t taken a page out of rival clubs’ book, choosing instead to stick with the same group, a costly decision which his side are already paying for and will continue to do so for the season ahead.