Liverpool have given up 17 goals this term. It is the most goals conceded by a top eight side. Jurgen Klopp’s team have lacked a strong defensive backbone, and it seems the team have taken a step backwards this term in the defence department. But while the defence continues to get the brunt of the criticism, the problem may actually be in the midfield.
Liverpool’s centre-backs have been under increasing pressure this season. Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have regularly been deployed in Liverpool’s centre-back positions. Yet, the three players have been anything but steady at the back.
The team’s defence has kept four clean sheets, but the team’s backline has still been a liability. While there has been plenty of discussion about who Liverpool should sign to slot into central defence – Virgil van Dijk – one area that fails to get much talk is the defensive midfield position.
Klopp typically deploys Jordan Henderson as a deep laying midfielder. However, the central defence doesn’t have a player protecting them. Just a few years ago, Liverpool had the likes of Javier Mascherano and Lucas protecting the defence. Of course, injuries caught up with Lucas over time, but the fact is, Liverpool haven’t had a player to take care of the running and tackling for years.
While Lovren and company have had their faults, the defence would be far better having someone who could protect them. During Borussia Dortmund’s most successful seasons, Klopp’s teams had solid defensive midfielders. Klopp’s gegenpressing style played to the strengths of his teams, but he also had a strong player to protect his centre-backs. Sven Bender, Sebastian Kehl and even Nuri Sahin, were deployed to do the dirty work. They did it well, and the rest of the Dortmund team could focus on their tasks.
Liverpool greatly need a defensive player to sit in front of the back line. Manchester City have Fernandinho, Manchester United have Nemanja Matic and Chelsea have N’Golo Kante, but who does Liverpool have to fulfil the defensive responsibilities in the centre of the park? No one. Emre Can isn’t the type of player to take care of the dirty work of breaking up play. Can averages just 1.7 tackles and one interception per game. Henderson averages the most tackles per game of any Liverpool player (2.6). Yet, he isn’t a defensive midfielder. No other player Liverpool player averages more tackles, which puts a lot of pressure on the captain, and shows the team’s midfield vulnerabilities.
Liverpool are often praised for their incredible attack, and the team’s defence takes the brunt of the criticism. But the team’s midfield continually gets ignored in the conversation of what is wrong. Yet, it is Klopp’s midfield that are the problem. If the Reds can add a solid defensive midfielder, the defence will be far stronger, and the team’s defensive frailties should be fixed.