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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Liverpool have structural problems and Klopp must stop blaming individual errors for defeats

One of Premier League’s most blistering attacks is being dragged down by those behind them

Jordan Henderson, second from left, argues with Liverpool teammate Dejan Lovren, left, on Sunday. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
Jordan Henderson, second from left, argues with Liverpool teammate Dejan Lovren, left, on Sunday. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

Dejan Lovren was gone on 31 minutes, a half-hour horror show against perceived Premier League title rivals at Wembley.

The Croat contributed to Tottenham Hotspur’s opening two goals, both buttressing the opinion he is not quite the level required, both leapt upon by Harry Kane as Liverpool’s Achilles heel was exposed once more.

As has become customary, a team fascinating going forward were frighteningly fragile at the back. On Sunday, Lovren was made the scapegoat. He was not just substituted, he was “hooked”, a phrase conveying a manager’s irritation as much as the player’s inefficacy.

Lovren has erred before this season, most notably against Sevilla last month in the Uefa Champions League. It stretches back further than that.

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Since the beginning of last season, the former Southampton man has made more errors (4) in the Premier League than any Liverpool teammate. He teetered again against Tottenham, then trudged away from the action with two thirds of the match still to be played.

Afterwards, Jurgen Klopp stopped short of blaming Lovren and Lovren alone. He maintained the decision was more to help the team cope with a rampant Spurs than sheltering a blatantly tormented player from the eye of a storm.

Klopp did not “want to say anything positive about” his side as a whole. He conceded all criticism was fair.

He has to be included in that, as do the rest of his team. At Wembley, Joel Matip blundered for Tottenham’s third goal. Simon Mignolet, the goalkeeper, flapped at a cross for the fourth. Inadvertently, his decision to rush from his line helped Kane notch the first.

The Belgian has now made 13 errors leading to goals in the Premier League since debuting for Liverpool in 2013. It is three more than anyone else, not just at his club but throughout the division.

It is not the only damning statistic. Liverpool’s 16 goals conceded this season ranks as the worst tally after their opening nine matches of a top-flight campaign in more than half a century.

Only Watford, West Ham United, Stoke City, Everton and Crystal Palace have fared worse.

On the road, they have been breached 15 times. No one has conceded more. The next worse, Palace, are three better off. They sit bottom of the table.

Expected to challenge for the top four at least, Liverpool place ninth. With 16 goals conceded and 14 scored, one of the country’s most blistering attacks is being dragged down by those behind them.

It is a collective culpability. Emre Can and Jordan Henderson are busy in central midfield, but neither has the discipline to sit deep, to offer genuine protection to the back line.

Liverpool have sold Mamadou Sakho, arguably their most accomplished centre-half. Knowing they required an upgrade on Lovren, for one, Klopp tracked Virgil van Dijk. Ultimately, it was in vain.

That there was no back-up replacement represents a major miscalculation.

A theme develops. Issues needing addressed have not been. Liverpool remain infuriatingly inconsistent. Klopp has lamented individual mistakes, only to neglect clear structural problems.

He cannot account for Lovren’s liability at the weekend, but more needs to be done when facing set-pieces, or when in direct confrontation with the league’s best teams.

A man typically applauded for his big-game acumen has lost this season to Manchester City and Tottenham. Liverpool conceded nine goals. Looking more broadly, they are seven points worse off than at the same point last season.

Some will point to the fact that Liverpool came into the match with Spurs on the back of two clean sheets. Yet Manchester United showed little penetrating intent, and Maribor are Champions League minnows.

Those two aside, Liverpool’s defensive record is indefensible. Lovren may have emerged as the lightning rod, but it is not only him.

It is up to Klopp and his staff to reinforce their coaching credentials.

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