It has been apparent for some time that the Achilles’ Heel of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool has been their fragility in defence. Last season, the Reds shipped 42 goals in their 38 Premier League games, an improvement on the 50 goals they shipped in 2015/16.
However, with four goals in two matches conceded already this term, in all competitions (a 3-3 Premier League draw at Watford and a 2-1 Champions League qualifying win at Hoffenheim), and having developed what appears to be an alarming inability to defend set-pieces, it is clear that the Reds defence continues to be a hindrance to the Merseyside club’s title ambitions.
All four goals they have conceded so far have been avoidable, with individual errors culpable, an issue that must be addressed before it proves detrimental to another Liverpool season.
More worryingly for Liverpool fans, despite defence being the pressing issue in the current squad, it is a problem that Jurgen Klopp is still yet to address, and with just a fortnight left of the transfer window, time is quickly running out.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s performance at Hoffenheim, in which he demonstrated his great ability to get forward and capped off his night with a fine free-kick, has provided some encouragement that Liverpool have some up and coming promise in the full-back areas at least.
However, at 18 years of age, he is still very much learning the defensive side of his game, having been caught noticeably out of position at Watford, and being at fault for Hoffenheim’s goal.
Klopp’s only other defensive recruit has been Hull City’s Scotland left-back Andrew Robertson, who is yet to feature with Alberto Moreno preferred in the position. Yet that still leaves the centre-back positions in urgent need of strengthening.
Under pressure to add to his defence in the waning days of the transfer window, Klopp could do worse than look to his homeland for a solution to the problem.
Reports from German newspaper Bild have suggested that Schalke’s German international centre-half, Benedikt Höwedes, is looking for a fresh challenge, and with more than enough knowledge of the Bundesliga, Klopp would do well to make an approach for the 29-year-old, who would be available for a cut-price €20 million in today’s market.
The source claims that clubs from England have already inquired about the player’s availability, and with such proven quality available at such a small price, it could be a huge opportunity missed for Liverpool if they didn’t make an approach, particularly given the player’s links to Jurgen Klopp.
He praised the former Dortmund coach when he took up the post at Liverpool back in 2015 in an interview with Bild.
A seasoned Bundesliga player with well over 200 appearances for Gelsenkirchen outfit Schalke, Höwedes has also won 44 caps for his country since 2011, including the 2014 World Cup final victory against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro. He also featured in the German U21 side that triumphed at the 2009 U21 European Championship, humbling England 4-0 in the final.
Now 29, he is very much in his prime as a defender with a wealth of experience and likely the best of his physical game still at his disposal. He has also featured in the full-back positions and as a sweeper in front of the defence, which could add some much needed versatility to Klopp’s rearguard at Anfield.
What the German may also provide to the back four is a leader figure which the club have lacked since losing the likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger in recent years, a figure which compatriot Jurgen Klopp could look to build a defence around.
The opportunity of a reunion with former Schalke teammate Joel Matip at Anfield, a player with whom Höwedes will now have an innate understanding, is also a beneficial aspect to be considered. Matip is still to fully convince the Anfield faithful since his arrival from the Veltins Arena, and the presence of Höwedes in the defence alongside him may just be the key to coaxing the best form from both players.
Höwedes is well-known for his aerial presence and being comfortable with the ball at his feet and playing out from the back, and may just be the cool head Liverpool need surrounding set-piece situations at present. He also offers more consistency in performances than the erratic duo of Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren.
There would also be very little concern over Liverpool’s ability to attract the player, with the Reds on course to qualify for this season’s Champions League after an impressive victory in the away leg of their qualifying playoff round tie against Hoffenheim.
Höwedes would prove a comparatively cut-price solution to the defensive problem compared to the primary target they have been linked to over the summer, Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk.
Of course, a move for Höwedes would have no bearing on whether the club moves for the Dutchman also, but landing one or even both would signal Liverpool’s intent as title challengers, as well as adding some much needed depth to the side, with injuries proving the Reds’ undoing in last season’s title challenge; Lovren and Matip amongst the club’s defensive players to have spent extended periods on the sidelines.
For the player himself, Liverpool may well offer the next big career challenge that he is seeking, with the opportunity to play and learn under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, of whom he is a known admirer. It would certainly be a shrewd move for both parties, but only time will tell if the Reds opt to bring in the German.