Ahead of visit to Spurs, defensive frailties threaten to unravel Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes
There was a time when newspapers did not publish league tables until each team had played three times. Nostalgia forms part of the Liverpudlian psyche.
Now Liverpool have another reason to wish the clock could be rewound. It is not so much the sight of Jurgen Klopp’s side in 11th place that is disturbing as the goals against column.
Configure the table in terms of defensive records and, albeit after just two games, Liverpool’s is the joint worst, an unwanted distinction they share with Stoke City.
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They have conceded five goals in two games. It may not be an opportune time to face a team, in Tottenham Hotspur, who boast the reigning top-scorers in both the Premier League and the Eredivisie, in Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen respectively.
It should determine if there is a case for Liverpool’s defence. Klopp has found himself criticised after his side let in three goals at Arsenal and two more at Burnley.
A lopsided fixture list, because of the redevelopment of Anfield’s Main Stand, means their first three games are all away from home, rendering clean sheets harder to secure. The problem is that Liverpool have not looked remotely capable of shutting opponents out.
An imbalance in a team that can seem overly attacking is reflected in the transfer market. Klopp paid out around £70 million (Dh339m) in the summer, only £4m of it for defenders.
Klopp has railed at the perception that spending is the answer to everything, complaining about the media’s obsession with transfers. It is one that is shared by many supporters.
There was no new left-back and Alberto Moreno compounded a wretched display in the Europa League final with an error-strewn performance at the Emirates Stadium. Midfielder James Milner replaced him at Burnley, picked out of position but deemed a more reliable replacement.
The one newcomer is Ragnar Klavan, a surprise signing but whose performances in pre-season indicated he could be another Sami Hyypia, another late bloomer unearthed at an unglamorous club – Augsburg in the Estonia captain’s case – and for a fee of just £4m.
“You bring in a 30-year-old centre-half and you think ‘what kind of an idea is this?’ But he is really strong,” Klopp said two weeks ago.
Two games do not render Klavan a bad signing, but he was particularly poor at Burnley, making a half-hearted challenge when Andre Gray burst clear to score the econd goal.
Rewind a month, however, and he seemed bought as a back-up. Then Mamadou Sakho was sent home from Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States. His indiscipline in America compounded a traumatic end to last season, when the Frenchman was probed for taking a fat-burning substance and, while no banned substance was found, it means he has not played since April.
Now Sakho, whose partnership with Dejan Lovren had threatened to be a solution in a problem position, is available for loan.
Klopp could call upon Joel Matip, a free-transfer addition from Schalke, or Joe Gomez, 19, when he is finally fit again, but central-defensive concerns could be an issue again this year.
The reality is that they conceded 50 league goals last season. It was as many as they let in during the 2013/14 campaign, when they almost won the title. Yet that was the exception: normally that is far too many for a team boasting top-four hopes.
Liverpool have not been frugal enough since 2008/09, when Rafa Benitez’s iron rearguard was only breached 27 times in the Premier League.
Perhaps Klopp will engender such solidity but the early evidence is not encouraging as his defence prepares to go on trial at Tottenham.
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Updated: August 25, 2016 04:00 AM