Talking Tactics: Reds must address disastrous defence
Liverpool have long boasted one of European football’s most resolute defences — but right now, their backline is in disarray.
Having seen his side ship 10 goals in their last seven outings, including a 4-1 hammering at Napoli last week, Jurgen Klopp has plenty to ponder.
As the Reds prepare to welcome Ajax to Anfield for a crucial Champions League clash tonight, we put their alarmingly fragile rearguard under the microscope.
In June 2020, a rampant Reds outfit dismantled Crystal Palace 4-0 at Anfield, effectively sealing the club’s first Premier League title in the process.
On that day, Klopp fielded his first-choice backline of Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The quartet had become impossible for the German to overlook, such was the pivotal role each had played in a campaign that broke an outrageous number of records.
Last Wednesday, that exact same defence were humiliated by a rampant Napoli.
Four goals is an impressive haul in its own right. However, anyone watching will know that the Serie A side should really have been closer to double figures.
Victor Osimhen struck the post and had a penalty saved inside the opening 20 minutes before Van Dijk then had to desperately hack Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s strike off the line.
What has been most striking about the goals Liverpool have conceded in recent weeks is the sheer number of individual mistakes involved.
Gomez, Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold each made a costly error in Naples — and it was not a first offence for any of that trio in 2022-23.
Gomez was lucky not to be punished earlier in the same contest, sloppily giving the ball away when under no real pressure through a complete lack of concentration.
Meanwhile, Van Dijk’s clumsy challenge on Osimhen to give away a spot-kick was eerily reminiscent of when the usually ice-cool Dutchman felled Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic last month.
Perhaps the biggest offender of all, however, has been Alexander-Arnold.
Adored by Reds fans for his fantastic work going forward, the right wing-back was once again grimly exposed defensively in the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
Mitrovic towered over him for Fulham's opener, while his part in Jadon Sancho's goal at Manchester United last month also came under intense scrutiny.
Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher believes that the Reds' frailties are set to continue unless fundamental changes are made.
Speaking after the Napoli loss, the ex-defender said: "Right now, Liverpool play a high-risk game but they’re not pressing the ball to stop that high-risk game and it’s causing them the problem.
"It’s not a problem with how high the line is, it’s about being compact and being together.
"So often we say, it’s too easy to get through Liverpool’s midfield. That didn’t happen before, so you could play that high line and be really compact. But if that’s not happening, you have to adapt.
"If they keep playing that [high line] they are going to have a big problem, in terms of the Premier League this season and qualifying for the next round of the Champions League."
Carragher’s suggestion caused some controversy — but it seems the man in charge agrees with him.
Following the Napoli hammering, Klopp admitted that Liverpool needed to "reinvent" themselves in order to snap their rotten run of form.
Ahead of the Ajax clash, the ex-Borussia Dortmund boss has suggested that will start with forming a solid base.
Klopp said: "We have had four or five days now of absolute truth. We didn't hide anything, we didn't hold back.
"But not to knock the players down, just to make sure that now is the starting point and that we sort the problems together on the pitch.
"In football you solve all individual problems as a team and that's what we have to do — to follow a common idea again.
"Everything is based on really solid defending. That's what we had to work on and that's what we did."
The German also suggested that at least eight of the XI he started with in Italy were below par, hinting that changes are in store this evening.
His hand has been forced in one case, with dependable left-back Robertson ruled out until October with a knee issue.
An ongoing injury crisis also limits the amount of alteration Klopp can oversee, so perhaps a change in shape will be his short-term solution.
Visitors Ajax, fresh off thumping Europa League runners-up Rangers 4-0 in Amsterdam last week, have won all of their last seven games, scoring 25 goals and conceding just three.
"We have to show a reaction," Klopp said of tonight's contest. "We know that."
A positive performance at Anfield would go a long way to lifting the mood on Merseyside — but things could yet get worse before they get better.