Jurgen Klopp must stick with a consistent back four to solve Liverpool's defensive issues

Alex Broun 31/01/2018
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"What do you mean I should stop changing my back four?"

After two chastening defeats to the then bottom and second bottom teams in the Premier League – the latter seeing Liverpool knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round for the third year in a row – the Reds got back to winning ways against Huddersfield on Tuesday night with a comfortable 3-0 victory.

So the Jurgen Klopp magical mystery tour is back on the rails – for now.

But why did it come off the rails in the first place? After an impressive run of 18 matches without a defeat how did things go so badly – so suddenly – awry?

After Swansea’s impressive 3-1 come from behind win over Arsenal on Tuesday night, the 1-0 reverse to the Swans – the first of the two losses – in retrospect doesn’t look so bad.

If you go back to their game against Swansea Klopp’s team were unlucky. All the key stats were in Liverpool’s favour – shots on goal 21-3, shots on target 4-2, pass success 88%-68%, aerial duels won 51% to 49% and a whopping possession advantage of 72 percent-28 percent.

It was a match were Swansea defended very well and Liverpool simply could not find a break through. As Swans’ manager Carlos Carvalhal explained the plan was to get the Red Ferraris (Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Robert Firmino) stuck in traffic – and it worked perfectly.

But that being said it was a match Liverpool could have easily drawn – or even won – if the ball bounced a slightly different way.

"This is easy" - WBA's Jay Rodriguez scored twice in four minutes at Anfield.

WBA’s Jay Rodriguez scored twice in four minutes at Anfield.

However the West Brom debacle, where Liverpool conceded three first half goals for the first time since Real Madrid in 2014, was exactly that and saw the Reds only realistic chance of silverware this year thrown out the window.

It was all the more painful for Liverpool supporters as it came after a hard-won third round defeat of Merseyside rivals Everton, and an exceptional late-winner by new defensive lynch pin Virgil Van Dijk who was on debut.

But Van Dijk was part of the reason for what went wrong against WBA.

In a move that was as baffling as it turned out to be ill-fated, Klopp rotated his two-fullbacks for the crucial tie.

Out went the in-form and hard-working Andrew Robertson, who at 8 million pounds is quickly turning into Liverpool’s best value buy since Luis Suarez, and in came the haphazard defensive liability Alberto Moreno.

The young Spanard was directly responsible for two of the West Brom goals, caught completely out of position as he wandered around somewhere on the left flank like a lost schoolboy.

Alberto Moreno

Alberto Moreno

The other fullback change saw Joe Gomez swap with another young tyro – Trent Alexander-Arnold. This was less catastrophic than the Moreno-Robertson switch but still had an effect.

The hard truth is that the back four of Moreno, Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Alexander-Arnold had never played together before – and Klopp simply could not introduce a new defensive line-up in such a crucial match.

It‘s clear to the entire world where Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel is located – their back four – they have conceded eight more goals than Burnley in the EPL this year.

It’s also clear the cornerstone to any winning team in the Premier League over the last few decades has been a settled and regular defensive line, same to for Chelsea and Leicester in recent years.

So what is so infuriating is Klopp’s refusal to pick a back-four and stick with it. The German’s mix and match philosophy only exacerbates Liverpool’s defensive frailties.

In the entire 18-match unbeaten run the German only put out the same back four in consecutive games once.

Robertson has been impressive in his first season for Liverpool

Robertson has been impressive in his first season for Liverpool

The quartet of Robertson, Ragnar Klavan, Dejan Lovren and Gomez who kept a clean-sheet in the 4-0 win at Bournemouth were retained for the next game at Arsenal, but quickly dismantled after conceding three goals (in a horrific five-minute spell) in that match.

So inconsistency in selection is clearly one of Liverpool’s major failings but then going into such a big match – and let’s not down play this, Liverpool fans are desperate for a trophy and this was Liverpool’s best chance this season – it was no time to be tinkering again with the back four.

The Reds previous matches before the FA Cup tie were the thrilling 4-3 win over Manchester City – that brought the Cityzens own long winning run to a close.

The back four for that match was Robertson, Lovren, Matip and Gomez. Klopp understandably swapped Van Dijk in for the trip to Swansea.

But then out of arrogance or stupidity, he rotated Robertson and Gomez out for the crucial FA Cup tie  and up went Liverpool’s 2017-18 silver-ware hopes in a puff of white smoke.

Let’s make some facts very clear – this back four had never played together – ever; it was just Van Dijk’s third game for the club; and Moreno had not played since the 7-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow on December 6 last year!

You wonder whether Klopp did a quick meet-and-greet in the dressing room before the team walked out: “Virgil this is Albert, he’ll be masquerading as your left back tonight – so you might want to be careful there. And this is Trent – nice young kid. He’ll do his best but he is my second choice these days.”

With Liverpool’s clear defensive gaps, the ongoing goal-keeping issues, and the importance of the game against a tricky opponent – who Liverpool drew 0-0 with at Anfield late last year – the selection smacked of extreme arrogance or stupidity, and on previous knowledge of Klopp he is far from dumb.

If Liverpool are to overcome their defensive problems and become real contenders Klopp must pick and stick with his back-four and curiously that may not include Van Dijk. The back four against Huddersfield was Robertson, the much-maligned Lovren, Matip and Gomez.

Liverpool could do worse than just stick with this quartet for the rest of the season – let’s face it, they don’t have that hectic a match schedule now.

The Reds began their 18-match unbeaten run with a 3-0 defeat of Huddersfield back in October last year. Reds fans will be hoping this 3-0 defeat of the Terriers starts a similar sequence – but only if Klopp learns a little humility and acknowledges the very substantial limitations of his defensive options.

KLOPP’S EVER CHANGING WAYS – LIVERPOOL’S BACK FOUR SWITCHES IN THEIR 18-MATCH UNBEATEN RUN

28.10.17 v Huddersfield (EPL) 3-0 –  Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez

01.11.17 v Maribor (UCL) 3-0- Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Alexander-Arnold

04.11.17 @ West Ham (EPL) 4-1 – Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez

18.11.17 v Southampton (EPL) 3-0 – Moreno, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold

21.11.17 @ Sevilla (UCL) 3-3 – Moreno, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez

25.11.17 v Chelsea (EPL) 1-1 – Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez

29.11.17 @ Stoke (EPL) 3-0 – Moreno, Lovren, Matip, Gomez

02.12.17 @ Brighton (EPL) 5-1 – Robertson, Wijnaldum, Lovren, Can, Alexander-Arnold

06.12.17 v Spartak Moscow (UCL) 7-0 – Moreno, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez

10.12.17 v Everton (EPL) 1-1 – Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez

13.12.17 v West Bromwich Albion (UCL) 0-0: Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold

17.12.17 @ Bournemouth (EPL) 4-0 – Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez

22.12.17 @ Arsenal (EPL) 3-3 – Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez

26.12.17 v Swansea (EPL) 5-0 – Robertson, Klavan, Matip, Alexander-Arnold

30.12.17 v Leicester (EPL) 2-1 – Robertson, Lovren, Matip, Gomez

01.01.18 @ Burnley (EPL) 2-1 – Gomez, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold

05.01.18 v Everton (FAC) 2-1 – Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip, Gomez

14.01.18 v Manchester City (EPL) 4-3 – Robertson, Lovren, Matip, Gomez

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