Is centre-back still a problem position for Liverpool?

Is centre-back still a problem position for Liverpool?

Over the last few transfer windows, Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool have significantly strengthened in a number of positions: the front line, the midfield and the defence.

The costly addition of Virgil van Dijk in January was a much-needed remedy for the Reds’ leaky defence, and the big Dutchman has undoubtedly improved things at the back for Liverpool with performances looking almost instantly improved since his arrival.

Whether the sudden improvement is totally down to Van Dijk’s arrival is up for discussion, and it may well be that someone of his expertise has simply helped to coax the best out of those around him, like Dejan Lovren who has enjoyed a brilliant World Cup campaign with Croatia off the back of a solid second half to the season under Klopp at Anfield.

As we head into the new season, it looks as those these two will be Klopp’s top centre back pairing, and one that the vast majority of the fanbase will not have a problem with.

This leaves the likes of Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez waiting in the wings for their chance at centre back, and gives Liverpool five options for centre backs going into what will surely be another packed campaign as they compete in four competitions once more.

So do these options in behind Lovren and Virgil mean that the once problematic issue of the heart of Liverpool’s defence is a thing of the past? Almost, I think is the correct answer.

The reason it’s an almost and not a definite yes is that, out of the three players vying for a spot behind Lovren and Virgil, young Joe Gomez is in pole position for more game time in the middle of the defence than both Matip and Klavan.

The 21-year-old has made no secret of the fact that he prefers this position over right back, where he has been utilised to good effect by both Klopp and Rodgers during his time on Merseyside. However, impressive displays at youth level and for England at centre back have underlined his potential as a future defensive lynch-pin for Liverpool.

He’s young, strong, good in the air, fast, anticipates play well and isn’t afraid to bring the ball out from the back; making him an ideal Jürgen Klopp defender.

As for Klavan, well, he’s a utility squad player at best with all due respect to him. He may well get cup game run outs and be used now and then as part of the rotation system that is all too familiar to us now.

Joel Matip is another issue altogether. Touted as a shrewd piece of business when he joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Schalke 04 in 2016, the Cameroonian initially looked the business. Yet as time has gone on, he has looked awkward at times, too easily turned, and in all honesty, a tad shambolic in periods.

Both Klavan and Matip may well be ideal to bring in for one or two games for rotational periods, or for short-term injuries, but in the pair of them, I don’t see the same longevity as I do in Joe Gomez.

They both seem a step below both Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren – which speaks volumes of the impact that Van Dijk has had since his signing and the leaps and bounds that Lovren has come on since that terrible afternoon he endured at Wembley as Liverpool lost 4-1 at the hands of Spurs.

While those two can hold the fort with Gomez and co. waiting in the wings, I think the time for Klopp to go big on defenders again may well be this time next year.

If rumours are correct that the Reds have lodged a world record bid for Roma’s Alisson Becker, it would further send a signal of intent from Klopp that Liverpool mean business, as well as adding further mettle to his defence.

However, for us to be truly assured and not have too many more sleepless nights about defensive horror shows, we may well have to splash yet more cash on a respected, tried and tested centre back.

Having said that, why not test Spurs’ resolve this summer with a bid for Toby Alderweireld? The Belgian international seems disenchanted with his position under Pochettino, Levy and Spurs’ strict wage structure.

He’d give me fewer nightmares, that’s for sure. But our time to recruit at the back (well, minus a goalkeeper) may not be until the end of the season that hasn’t even begun.

Comments

4 responses to “Is centre-back still a problem position for Liverpool?”

  1. RED PHIL says:

    Central defence isn’t a strength, that is for sure! However, I would like to see Joe Gomez given a run there as he is a superb prospect. Still need a fourth top attacker so we can play any three from four, as opposed to having nobody able to adequately replace Mane, Firmino and our little Egyptian genius.

  2. Dev says:

    Skriniar of Inter. Need world class with VVF

  3. Joe says:

    It’s definitely not perfect but then, it never quite is. I’d suggest that with Lovren’s improvement (and he was never as bad as people made out, though he’ll always have an error in him) he and Van Dijk make a partnership as good as any in the league, now that the Vertonghen-Alderweireld pairing seems no more.

    Personally I think you’re doing Matip a bit of a disservice Scott mate, as he was very good in his first season for us, on the whole. Had a dip last year, but that’ll happen sometimes. If he can get back to that earlier form then I’d be tempted to start him ahead of Lovren in some of the games against the bus parkers, as his ability to carry the ball out and pass between the lines should not be underestimated. If his form of last season is more representative then yeah, we may have an issue, but my hope is that his real level’s more like the 16/17 Matip, and I reckon that’s a pretty good player. Klavan’s nowt special of course, but is reliable backup and I imagine his experience is useful around the squad. Gomez has some issues (aerially and awareness, I think) but he’s still very young and, if he can improve on those then I agree with you that he could end up an excellent player.

    So yeah, I may be viewing this through rose-tinted specs a bit, but in addition to having a first choice partnership as good as any in the Premiership, I’d suggest that our options are the equal of those of any other English team, except probably City. We could do better, certainly – we could always do better, just as with pretty much any team – but I think those who think are central defence is an area of weakness are barking up the wrong tree. Our high line will always cause a few heart in mouth moments and maybe influence peoples’ perception of our players, but it’s a consequence of the way we play, and I think the set of defenders we have is actually pretty good.

    I get that people always want to SPENDSPENDSPEND, but I reckon we could buy Maguire, Alderweireld, whoever and we wouldn’t look that much more solid (particularly Maguire I think – we need pace in our system and he just doesn’t have it, and would look a lot worse for us than he does in Leicester’s deep lying setup) – they’d have the odd moment every few games where they got exposed and look like idiots; that’s just the price you pay for the vibrant attacking style we play, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

    TLDR – our defence ain’t perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than many seem to think.

  4. John B says:

    I think we’re fine for now. Gomez is definitely a strong first choice back-up. Give Matip and Klavan some cup runs, and in particular see how Matip shapes up this season. The time to go for another centre back would be next summer to replace Klavan. For me the biggest worry in defence is Moreno. That’s our biggest weak link right there – no quality back up for Robertson at LB. Also it’s a shame to see that the Fekir deal seems to have fallen through. I think we still need a fourth quality forward as backup to the front three.

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Published by Anfield Index
Updated: 2018-07-22 08:02:34
2,587 Views