4 major issues Jurgen Klopp still has to resolve at Liverpool
In the two years since Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool – a 0-0 draw at Tottenham on October 17, 2015 – the German has overseen significant improvements overall at Anfield. But with the Reds continuing to be undermined by defensive issues, and currently on a run of one win in eight games in all competitions, there are clearly still issues Klopp has yet to resolve at Anfield.
1. The defence
Liverpool conceded 42 goals last season, their best goals against record since Rafa Benitez’s final season in charge of 2009/10. Five clean sheets in the final six games of the season helped towards it, and hinted at a better defensive future for a team that has been plagued by individual errors and problems defending set-pieces in recent years.
The expected arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the summer was intended to further strengthen the defence, and help get Liverpool to below 40 goals conceded for the first time in eight seasons. Alas, the big Dutchman didn't arrive and now Klopp’s side are currently set for conceding 57 goals if they continue at the rate they’ve started this season.
While Klopp has previously acknowledged that “it is obvious we have conceded too much, there’s no doubt about this”, the manager’s patience must surely now be wearing thin. He said recently after the League Cup game at Leicester that conceding sloppy goals “makes me really, really sick".
The statistic that Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren have lost just once in the 22 games they’ve started together doesn’t provide an accurate picture of the defensive issues that undermine the rest of the work being done by the team.
That Klopp’s only defensive signings have been Steven Caulker (loan), Matip (free), Ragnar Klavan (£4m), Andrew Robertson (£8m) plus goalkeeper Loris Karius (£4m) has led to the accusation that the manager has failed to address the defensive shortcomings. It’s difficult to disagree with that.
2. Too much faith in players he inherited
Of the XI that started Klopp’s opening game against Tottenham, four are no longer at the club - including the man of the match that day, Mamadou Sakho – while six of the seven substitutes have also left and the other is Adam Bogdan.
However, of the squad against Manchester United at the weekend, only three of the starting line-up were signed by Klopp (Matip, Wijnaldum and Salah). Therefore, the spine of Liverpool’s team is still made up of players inherited from the Brendan Rodgers era.
Upon his appointment at Anfield, Klopp insisted he had inherited a group of players who didn’t need much changing. "We don't have to sprinkle magical dust on them: 'and now you can play football'. They know how to play," he said. "We just have to create a situation where it's possible to do this.” It’s a mantra he has repeated frequently since.
The theory was that Klopp had told FSG that a major playing personnel shift wasn't required, whereas somebody like Carlo Ancelotti would have wanted wholesale changes. But has Klopp overestimated the quality of certain players? Players who look good one week, but lack the consistency to perform to their best week in, week out – a necessary ingredient for a title-chasing side.
Is Dejan Lovren really a centre-back who can help you win a league title? Is Jordan Henderson really a holding midfielder and captain who can inspire his team towards the top of English football? Klopp is clearly a glass-half-full man, but to answer ‘yes’ to those two questions is extremely optimistic.