Liverpool's Defensive Woes
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LIVERPOOL’S DEFENSIVE WOES – ANALYSIS 






Main defensive line:– Alexander-Arnold (22, RB); Andrew Robertson (27, LB); Ozan Kabak (21, CB); Nathaniel Philips (24, CB); Virgil Van-Dijk (29, CB); Joe Gomez (23, CB); Joel Matip (29, CB); Rhys Williams (20, CB) 






Goals conceded:– 46, across all competitions (EPL, UCL, EFL Cup, FA Cup) Combined market value: – €335m 






Liverpool’s slump in form this season is largely attributed to lack of rotation, injury woes and tactical inefficiencies of the back four faced by Jurgen Klopp. The Merseyside team have fallen from ‘mentality giants’ to largely being invisible on not only the domestic level, but also on the continental stage. 






With Dejan Lovren transferred out & Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all injured, their superb 68- game unbeaten home record has been replaced by an astonishing run of six consecutive home defeats. Their attacking threat has also been nullified to some extent – even with the arrival of Diogo Jota – but the defense remains the biggest problem. 









THEN: 

At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, Liverpool possessed the will of great champions, in the previous season having conquered the Champions League and falling just one point short of 98-point champions Manchester City in England. 

This was largely due to the deadly combination of the attacking efficiency of the Salah-Firmino-Mane trio & the defensive superiority established by Arnold-Van Dijk-Gomez-Robertson; Liverpool did not have the highest goals scored (85 vs City’s 105), but had conceded the lowest goals (33 vs City’s 35) – in the run to winning the Premier League title. 

The pre-season is important to gel the team together and no club was allowed this opportunity (the Reds played only 2 friendlies before the start of the actual season). At the end of the 2019/20 season, pre-season games were cancelled due to the season’s late finish because of coronavirus shutdowns. 




NOW:

Liverpool finished with a remarkable 97 & 99 points for two consecutive Premier League seasons respectively in 2018/19 & 2019/20 – something that has been far from imaginable in the current season. 

Although the lack of pre-season games is not the reason for Liverpool’s disappointing form, injuries have largely taken their toll on the English champions. 

Just one month into the 2020/21 season, Van Dijk picked up a season-ending ACL injury vs Everton, Joe Gomez suffered a tendon injury to his left knee while on international duty and Joel Matip also suffered a season-ending ankle ligament injury against Tottenham just after New Year. In the space of four months, three main center-backs were sidelined for the rest of the season and hence the crisis began. 

This prompted Liverpool to promote Nathaniel Philips to the regular starting eleven and bring in Schalke’s young 21-year-old Turkish center-back Ozan Kabak on a season long loan. 20-year-old Rhys Williams has also been given game time. Given their inexperience, these players have been decent at the back but not quite what Liverpool require at the highest levels of English & European glory. 

Jurgen Klopp has also pushed in Jordan Henderson to play at the center-back position, a role not very familiar with the energetic central midfielder & due to which Liverpool have suffered in midfield. 

Van Dijk and Joel Matip’s experience have sorely been missed not only in the big games such as the one against Real Madrid but also against mid-table and bottom placed teams such as Brighton & Burnley. 

One more important factor has been the lack of defensive rigidity in the left back and right back positions held by Robertson & Arnold respectively. This was most visible against a relentless counter- attacking team like Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final 1st leg in Madrid. High pressing, long balls and break-up play often forces the Reds to make mistakes originating on the flanks. 

So far, Liverpool have won just 48% of their matches this season, which is stark in contrast to their previous two seasons. 




WHERE DID IT GO WRONG? 

As mentioned previously, the lack of defensive prowess on the wings has been a major contributing factor in conceding an unusual number of goals. Arnold & Robertson, for their age and the level they’ve played in, have comparatively decent experience. But what the Klopp’s back line needs is a leader – similar to Van Dijk’s quality. 

Liverpool have crashed out of contention in all the competitions they have taken part in this season; Premier League, UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup. The main reason could be boiled down to lack of leadership, inexperience and versatility to adapt to opponents’ high-pressing tactics. 

A similar example could be drawn to the absences of Varane, Carvajal and Ramos for Real Madrid. Without the three, the experienced Lucas Vazquez, Nacho and young Eder Militao have all stepped up to cover the defensive tracks. In the two legs against Liverpool, sandwiched with the El Clasico, Madrid conceded just 3 goals across the 3 matches – scoring five goals and mustering out two priceless victories. 




Liverpool need to sign at least one experienced leader, preferably a center-back who can lead the young full backs and at the same time give opposition the headaches to work their way past the last man standing. A full-back signing who has considerable strength and defensive experience will also go a long way in helping Liverpool’s woes. 

The lack of player rotation over the past two seasons is also one reason for Liverpool’s defensive woes. The burnout caused by continuous playing time without a break for Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – ever since Dejan Lovren’s departure to Zenit St. Petersburg – has been evident. 




Given the fact that the season is nearing its end and the club has only one reason to push on (to qualify for Europe next season), Klopp will have plenty of time to ponder where it went wrong for the Reds. 

 

 

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