Assessing Liverpool's Defence For The Upcoming Campaign
Having signed Dominic Solanke and smashing the club’s record transfer fee for Mohamed Salah, Liverpool have begun identifying key weaknesses within their current side. Andy Robertson is the latest to join The Reds this summer as Jurgen Klopp looks to address what has been a troubling position for several years now.
However, there remains a number of issues within the current squad, particularly in the defensive areas. So, with a new season on the horizon, how are Liverpool shaping up and what, if anything, are they currently missing?
Simon Mignolet will likely start the season as the club’s No.1, having impressed during the second-half of the campaign with crucial saves against West Brom and Stoke helping to secure a top-four finish and subsequent return to the Champions League.
The Belgian has done enough to merit a show of faith from Jurgen Klopp and any decision to drop him for the opening game of the season could merely dent the confidence he has built up in recent months. Authoritative and ready to come and meet the ball from set plays, Mignolet looks a changed man in many ways. It’d be a shame to see him regress to his previous self.
That being said, Jurgen Klopp will have one eye on Loris Karius this season. Suffering an untimely hand injury during pre-season last summer, the German was denied a crack at the whip during his first full season on Merseyside, with Mignolet taking the No.1 spot before being replaced.
However, this season offers a huge opportunity for Karius to live up to the hype he came with when he joined Liverpool. As one of the brightest young players in the Bundesliga, there was a certain expectation on Karius’ shoulders – something he didn’t live up to during his first season in which the pressure got the better of him, particularly away at Bournemouth where a costly mistake cost Liverpool all three points.
Two EFL Cup performances against Southampton saw the better side of the 24-year-old, who kept Liverpool in the contest for the most part. Showing good reactions time and time again, Karius was able to rebuff any chances on goal to give The Reds to best chance possible of overturning the deficit. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be, but it did give an indication of what the ‘keeper is capable of.
Danny Ward will be the most interesting of players to watch in the goalkeeping department after a thoroughly impressive season for Huddersfield Town. His penalty heroics in the semi-final and final of the play-offs saw the club achieve promotion to the Premier League but Klopp seems intent on keeping hold of the Welshman this season.
He may well be the third-choice goalkeeper at the club, but with a busier fixture list, Ward could get the chance to shine in domestic cup games. Should he capitalise on such chances and show what he’s about, he could well force his way into Klopp’s plans.
Defensively speaking, Liverpool really need to make a step up this summer. Nathaniel Clyne had a solid season and poses a reliable figure at right-back, while Trent Alexander-Arnold continues his rise from the Under-23s and could force his way into the first-team picture.
So far during pre-season he has shown qualities at both ends of the pitch, giving the attacking nous that the modern football game demands of its full-backs while having the pace and discipline to track back and recover when the opposition get the wrong side of him.
On the opposite side, the signing of Andy Robertson will come as an almighty relief to most Liverpool fans. Having been rebuffed in approaches for Benjamin Mendy, Theo Hernandez and Ryan Sessegnon, Jurgen Klopp clearly saw something in the 23-year-old. Attacking minded, he could be the ideal fit for the German’s gegenpressing style, with the ability to drive forward in possession and maraud past one or two defenders before cutting inside or delivering a dangerous cross adding a certain unpredictability down the flank.
Not to mention the fact he loves to hug the touchline. That will relieve pressure on Clyne to provide all the width down the right-hand side, as was the case when Sadio Mane was injured last season. At £8million it represents a cheap move for The Reds with the player having plenty of potential to become a key cog within Klopp’s side.
Where the problems really arise, however, is in centre-back. Joel Matip had an impressive first season on Merseyside, although disrupted by untimely injuries. The Cameroonian can go from strength to strength at the base of the team if he can avoid such injuries next season and his aerial ability make him a worthy asset to have.
Dejan Lovren is at the other end of the spectrum, having failed to truly establish himself since making a move from Southampton. When Brendan Rodgers signed him, he was very much expected to add certain authority to the defence, acting as Jamie Carragher’s replacement. However, he has failed to live up to those qualities and always looks like he’s got a mistake in him – particularly against Palace.
As such, if Liverpool want to be challenging on four fronts next season, or for domestic silverware, an upgrade in defence is most definitely needed. It’s no secret that Virgil van Dijk is Klopp’s primary defensive target and it’s easy to understand why.
In many ways he’s the complete defender. He epitomises a ball playing centre-half, with confidence to roam forward on the ball and deliver cutting edge passes between the lines. A long pass accuracy of 62.6% is testament to that – a far superior statistic to any of the current Liverpool defenders.
A lynchpin to Liverpool’s flaky back-four, Van Dijk could be the answer to Liverpool’s defensive problems. He’s yet to make a single error leading to a goal in 55 Premier League appearances while average 6.8 clearances per ninety minutes along with 2.72 interceptions. It’s clear for all to see why Klopp favours a move for the Dutchman this summer and Liverpool should pull out all the stops to sign him if they want to challenge this season.
After all, a quartet of Matip, Lovren, Klavan and Gomez isn’t of the necessary quality to be challenging for silverware in England’s top flight.