Ben Morgan looks into the defense issues that have plagued the clubs recent Premier League campaigns, and some possible solutions to the evident issues.
It seems as though a game will never go by without the Reds coming in for criticism in regards to their defending, and for good reason. Last season, Liverpool conceded more goals (42) than any other side in the Top 6, and when Liverpool went close to winning the league in the 2013/14 season, when the lost the league to Manchester City, even though the club, spearheaded by the infamous Luis Suarez, and a fit and firing Daniel Sturridge, the ‘SAS’ who scored 52 of the reds 101 goals that season, the reds still conceded over 50 goals. These defensive issues haven’t gone away, and if the 3-3 draw at Vicarage road in the league opener was anything to go by, the problems are more likely to persist, then to go away.
How can the club counter these issues then? It has been well documented over this transfer window that Liverpool have actively tried to sign Southampton Dutch giant Virgil Van Dijk, where it even went as far as the club having to apologize and ‘end’ their interest in the Netherlands international due to an alleged illegal approach. This was a massive blow for the Reds. Many former players have spoken openly about this potential signing and all have backed it. Even after the game against Watford, on Sky Sports, two club legends, Jamie Carragher and Jamie Redknapp, engaged in what would become a quite heated debate on Van Dijk, with the former suggesting that the defender could help solve these apparent issues in the Reds backline, and help deal with the set piece nightmare we have been in over the past 5 years, since Carragher himself was in the side. The player has already spoken to the Saints about his intentions to link up with Jurgen Klopp and his squad at Anfield and has even handed in a transfer request to try and force his stance. The club is adamant though that he is not for sale. So how else can Liverpool look to solve the issue?
Well, the answer could be already at the club. Klopp runs a very strict camp with his players, and the players know not to get on the wrong side of the German. Unfortunately, Mamadou Sakho chose to get on this wrong side of the Liverpool Manager and is paying the price for that, massively. The Frenchman was a huge part of the side which reached the Europa League Final against Sevilla back in 2015/16 and even scored a goal in the fascinating 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Quarter Finals of the competition. We signed Sakho from Paris Saint Germain, back in 2013, in the time of Brendan Rodgers, and he was a first team regular for the club, up until the pre-season of last year. The center back had frustrated Klopp with his timekeeping issues and attitude and was subsequently sent home from the pre-season tour of Australia, and frozen out of the first team picture at Anfield. The defender was then loaned to Crystal Palace in January earlier this year, where he would star for them and play an integral role in the clubs survival in the League. He then picked up an injury and returned to Anfield. He is still recovering from injury but is still out of the Liverpool first team picture. This is a real shame, as the Frenchman is arguably Klopp’s best choice at center back, and the prospect of him playing alongside Joel Matip, who had a very good debut campaign last year, is an exciting one. This could be the most obvious and best financial option for the club, but with Klopp unlikely to go back on his stance, and with Crystal Palace, and West Brom in the hunt for the defender, it seems as though he won’t be the option.
There may be 2 more quick fix solutions at the club, ones where no ridiculous amounts of money need to be spent. They come in the form of Joe Gomez and new signing Andrew Robertson. Joe Gomez, another Brendan Rodgers signing, showed early promise in his Liverpool career, usurping Alberto Moreno in the left back position. The England youth international suffered an unfortunate injury however that sidelined him for over a year. His recovery has been steady but he has now returned to the first team picture with a point to prove. He started Saturdays 1-0 win in the right back position, with Trent Alexander-Arnold being rested; he looked solid and assured in his play, and will be hoping he gets more opportunities to fill his obvious potential. Andrew Robertson also started on Saturday, on what was his competitive debut for the club, and he impressed. He put in a fantastic shift on Liverpool’s left-hand side, putting in cross after cross which almost every time troubled the Palace backline. His runs off the ball were intelligent, and he even tested Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal as well. If the weekend performance was anything to go by, then it could be a big season for the Scotsman.
Saturdays win at Anfield saw the Reds keep a clean sheet, and get their first win over Palace at Anfield in 3 games. The Reds looked calm and assure din defence, and it is clear, that if Jurgen Klopp looked into the transfer market, or even at what he has already at his disposal, that Liverpool could really put an end to their defensive frailties, and could be serious contenders this season.