David Preece: Jurgen Klopp must bung Liverpool's defensive leaks - and fast!
Jurgen Klopp didn't have to speak for everyone to know how he was feeling after Liverpool's EFL Cup defeat at Leicester on Tuesday night.
Before he had even uttered his first syllable, the pained puff of his cheeks and slow exhalation told us everything we needed to know. He is a tired man.
The weariness of watching his side defend as if it is an option was etched on his face. So dominant going forward in the first half, his Liverpool side should have had the game wrapped up and both sides considering early second half changes with the exact same fixture on Saturday in mind. But they didn’t. A common thread from their previous game against Burnley that was being sewn in to this one too.
The way Klopp’s sides play, means his defence will always be exposed. They rely on players bursting forward as soon as they win back the ball but if the ball isn’t retained in those first two passes, then midfielders will have vacated the space in front of the back line and vulnerable to their counter being countered.
That exposure can weaker you defensively but teams on the same plane as Liverpool should still be able to defend these situations far better than what they currently do. I can understand the criticism of Klopp’s apparent inability to address the issues either by a changing of personnel or through work on the training ground, and ultimately the responsibility lies with him, but when I say some of their defending is passive, I’m being very kind.
I sympathise with Klopp to a greater extent than his players simply because the errors that are occurring, some of them not glaring but subtle, are ones which shouldn’t need the focus of an elite manager.
It’s far too rash of those talking of Clop’s tenure coming to an end but he has given his more experienced players enough chances and he must now know that the repeat offenders are going to cost him more than just goals.
It’s true that the ‘art of defending’ in the sense of being fully committed and choosing not to do the grubbier, less glamorous and more heroic side of the game, is on the wane, that really doesn’t stack up when we look at the number of goals conceded per season since the conception of the Premier League.
In that first year the average goals per game was 2.65 and over the last 25 years the average has stayed almost identical to that at 2.64 goals per game. Compare it to last season’s total and you see that the number of goals per game had dropped by 0.2.
Does this mean the defenders are getting better or the forwards getting worse? There is a deeper discussion to be had about this but what I’m saying is that the perceived softness Liverpool possess can’t just be put down to a generational shift towards not being able to defend.
Since the defensive rigidity of Rafa’s days at the club, Liverpool’s goals against column has swelled from regularly under 30 to consistently in the 40s, peaking at 50 in 2015/16 and it is now seen as a genuine weakness that can no longer go unaddressed.
As I have pointed to earlier, the balancing act between defence and attack needed to create a successful sides means when you are so invested in going forward in the manner Klopp does, the opposite end will suffer but it doesn’t need to be so blatant.
There isn’t the need for a big brute of a centre half to come in and dominate. Everyone points the failure to bring in Virgil van Dijk but he isn’t the dutch boy who will hold the Anfield dam. He isn’t the solution, only part of it and it will take more than his arrival to see an improvement. All that’s needed is some basic rules of defending to be adhered to by each individual to make a huge difference to that side.
One such aspect is taking responsibility on the pitch and communicating with the players around you. Each player should be responsible for the players that are directly in front or to the side of them and if you are being let down in defensive situations by those players then you a partly responsible for your part in your own downfall.
Each player affects another.
Without the protection of defensive midfielder and full backs bombing on without care, central defenders will struggle.
If those central defenders have too much space to defend and can’t protect the width of the goal posts then the goalkeeper will suffer too. And they have.
As potent as Liverpool are going forward, their defensive frailties can’t continue.
To say it was a problem before he arrived is no longer a valid excuse, like the government in power blaming the policies of their predecessors there comes a time when you’ve had enough time to implement the changes needed to rectify them. For Jurgen Klopp, that time has come.