There’s something special about Liverpool this season, but Sunday’s last-gasp loss to Bournemouth showed precisely why Jurgen Klopp’s side won’t win the Premier League – writes Tom Bennett.
Bournemouth 4, Liverpool 3 was a Premier League classic – end-to-end, packed full of incident and topped off with an injury-time winner. But for all of the classy attacking play, there was an equal-sized helping of shambolic defending.
Many of those errors came from Klopp’s title hopefuls and – while it would be disingenuous to suggest that Liverpool are a poor side – it is the Reds’ weakness at the back that is likely to see them fall short in the title race.
Eighteen goals conceded makes Liverpool the leakiest defence in the top eight… but what are the reasons and is there a cure?
” In eight starts for Liverpool he has not shown me one thing to suggest he’s good enough at this level. It’s still early days but he would need a massive improvement.”
Jamie Carragher’s comments are harsh, but the German youngster has done little to suggest he’s the long-term solution between the sticks, and was again at fault against Bournemouth.
Spilling a routine save in injury-time to allow Nathan Ake was the most eye-catching error, but Karius should also have done much better with Bournemouth’s second from Ryan Fraser, when he was slow to get down and had a weak wrist.
Is he better than Mignolet? Maybe. Is he in the same bracket of Thibaut Courtois, Petr Cech, Hugo Lloris or even Claudio Bravo? No.
Where are the defenders?
Joel Matip was the only injury absentee in defence on Sunday, yet Klopp lined up with a back four featuring two central midfielders. That’s a concerning lack of strength in depth, and Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses were all-too visible in the second half at Dean Court.
” You might as well start a goal down with Moreno at left-back.”
Those are the words of Gary Neville at the start of the season, and the Reds’ boss clearly agreed, dumping Moreno within weeks and shifting James Milner into an unfamiliar left-back role.
Now, Milner is a good player and he’s adapted impressively to the demands of his new position… but he’s not a defender. And that was apparent when he gave away the penalty that got Bournemouth on the scoreboard 11 minutes into the second half.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, it wasn’t just Milner who was to blame, with centre-back Dejan Lovren causing the problem in the first place by failing to clear his lines with a weak defensive header.
And playing Lucas Leiva in central defence isn’t ideal either. The Brazilian did little noticeably wrong against Bournemouth, but he shouldn’t be a third-choice central defender at a club with title aspirations.
Lack of cover
The back four may be a problem, but they would be justified in blaming their midfield for Liverpool’s goals-against column. Just compare the protection that the rest of the top six offer their defence to Liverpool’s shape and it’s immediately clear why the Reds are the most porous of all the possible title contenders.
” Liverpool are not going to keep a clean sheet every week, but they don’t need to. They are programmed to score goals.”
So said Robbie Fowler. Of course, a lack of defensive cover comes with the territory of Klopp’s all-guns-blazing attacking approach. And the pay-off for his gamble is that Liverpool are by far the most dangerous attacking side in the country, on the evidence of the opening 14 games, playing some truly scintillating football and scoring goals for fun.
But opponents will always feel like they have a chance against Liverpool, due in part to the space offered between defence and midfield.
Jordan Henderson has performed well in his deeper midfield role, but he is unlikely to ever be a top-draw holding midfielder and certainly can’t be expected to control that area on his own. But that was the case for Bournemouth’s second goal, when Henderson was sluggish on the turn and lacking in the support required to block Fraser’s shot.
Wrong attitude, or Gegenpressing’s flaw?
Defending is a team game, but Liverpool as a collective failed to close down the space as Bournemouth threatened their comeback late in the game.
It could be an attitude problem, with the team geared up with an attack-central mindset, or it could be Klopp’s intense pressing style leaving the players leggy in the latter stages of matches.
Either way, it’s undeniable that Liverpool switched off twice to surrender the win.
Steve Cook’s equaliser featured an absolutely glorious touch from the centre-back, but he was able to take advantage thanks to finding himself with five yards of open space in front of him in the box… even though every single Liverpool player was back in the penalty area.
And there was a lack of intensity in Liverpool’s defending for the winner, with Cook again given an age to line up the shot from distance that led to Ake’s finish.
Not all doom and gloom
As weak as Liverpool’s defence can be, this is a brilliant time to be a fan of the club. The team are playing arguably better football than at any point in the last two decades and even in defeat there can be some perverse enjoyment to take from the bums-off-seats nature of the spectacle.
But this Liverpool are not ready to win the title. They are close and the future is extremely bright for the club, but results like Sunday’s against Bournemouth will continue to hold them back until Klopp can solve the club’s defensive woes.