Three quarters of another season have passed and it looks like Liverpool FC has the same old defensive problems. The team is on course to concede over 40 goals for the 7th straight season. That means that the last time LFC conceded less than a goal per match – you guessed it, Rafa Benitez was in charge. Jurgen Klopp has insisted that this season things have gotten better so let’s take a deeper look.
Loris Karius was bought in the summer to become LFC’s new number 1. Unfortunately he fractured his hand in preseason so Simon Mignolet started in goal for the Reds in the first 5 fixtures. Karius took over a few matches later just to be dropped due to his shaky performances after the draw with West Ham at Anfield. Mignolet has been starting since. Changing the keeper however didn’t really change the number of times the ball finds it’s way to Liverpool’s net. In 10 matches Karius has conceded 12 goals, while in 19 matches Mignolet has conceded 24.
Milner and Clyne are literally the only 2 players who have been available for most of the matches. Clyne has played 96% of the minutes at right-back while Milner has played 90% of the minutes at left-back.
Here is where the reason for our defensive inconsistencies lie. With the falling out between Mamadou Sakho and Klopp, LFC were left with Joel Matip (a new acquisition), Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan (a new acquisition) and Lucas Leiva (a midfielder) to play centre-back. At the beginning of the season our centre-backs hadn’t played a whole lot of matches together – maybe Lovren and Lucas had a few matches between them but Lucas is 4th choice. Since then injuries and FIFA have not helped in establishing a starting centre-back pairing.
|Player||Minutes played||Team goals scored||Offensive rating||Team goals conceded||Defensive rating||Net team gain||Net rating|
*Note that stoppage time played is included in minutes. Offensive, defensive and net rating are calculated per 100 minutes.
LFC concedes a whooping 1.92 goals per 100 minutes when Lucas is on the field. In the same time we concede only 1.10 goals per 100 minutes when Matip is playing. The problem is that no centre-back has played in more that two thirds of all minutes.
I didn’t do a comparison to the other top 6 teams but it is safe to say that LFC have the most inconsistent defensive line-up at the top of the league (quite possibly in the whole league):
|Back 3/4||Minutes played||Team goals conceded||Defensive rating||Team goals scored||Offensive rating||Net team gain||Net rating|
|Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner||803 (28%)||7||0.87||11||1.37||4||0.50|
|Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Milner||429 (15%)||4||0.93||12||2.80||8||1.86|
|Clyne, Lovern, Klavan, Milner||607 (21%)||7||1.15||12||1.98||8||0.82|
|Clyne, Matip, Lucas, Milner||349 (12%)||5||1.43||7||2.01||2||0.57|
|Clyne, Lovren, Lucas, Milner||194 (17%)||5||2.58||9||4.64||4||2.06|
If Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner can be considered our starting back four – they have played together in just 28% of the minutes. It’s important to note that Klopp has never subbed a centre-back out this season for reasons other than injury. Our starting defence is actually pretty good – conceding less than a goal per game. And all defensive lineups that have no more than one midfielder in them are actually doing a decent job. I included the offensive rating because as is well documented we have had problems scoring goals against teams that sit deep. Depending on the situation our opponents tend to park the bus if they score a goal that gives them the lead or levels it up. Small sample sizes should be considered for the lineups with less than 500 minutes.
To complete the mess let’s add the keepers to the back four:
|Back five||Minutes played||Team goals conceded||Defensive rating||Team goals scored||Offensive rating||Net team gain||Net rating|
|Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner||607(22%)||7||1.15||12||1.98||5||0.82|
|Karius, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner||516(19%)||4||0.77||7||1.36||3||0.58|
|Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lucas, Milner||349(13%)||5||1.43||7||2.01||2||0.57|
|Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner||287(10%)||3||1.05||4||1.39||1||0.35|
|Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Milner||286(10%)||3||1.05||6||2.10||3||1.05|
36% of the minutes are played by a defensive 5 that has under 200 minutes played together. And our most consistent defensive lineup has played just 607 total minutes including stoppage time together. It’s worth noting that most of the minutes shared between Lovren and Matip are with Karius in goal. 3 of the goals conceded by that line up are from set pieces (at Swansea, vs West Brom and the Payet free kick vs West Ham). After seeing this data I am actually surprised how well we have done defensively. There is no way to have a solid defence when you don’t even have a set starting back five. It will take time but I agree with Klopp – we have improved.
Busy summer ahead
Everyone has an opinion but there is a general consensus among Liverpool fans that we need a left-back and centre-back. Some fans would say we need a new keeper and right-back too.
Left-back and centre-back are a must indeed – we currently have midfielders playing major minutes in those roles. While Milner has done a good job the same can’t be said for Lucas. There is also the whole Sakho situation that needs to be resolved. Lovren and Matip when playing together have looked very very solid – and the numbers back that up – no matter who is the keeper standing behind them. I want to see them getting a run until the end of the season to prove me right. I am not convinced we need a new starting centre-back. A back up is surely needed.
I don’t think the club should spend money on a right-back and a new keeper. Clyne is doing a solid job and Trent Alexander Arnold is next line.
I believe Karius will improve – he is still very young for a goalie and missed a big chunk of preseason and the start of the season due to injury. On top of that he had to adjust to playing in a new league. Mignolet on the other hand has been decent since he was reinstated. Having an inconsistent back four lineup in front of them hasn’t done our keepers a great favour either. Changing 4 of the starting 5 in defence will not lead to fewer goals conceded.