Defence of the realm – still some missing pieces in Klopp's Liverpool jigsaw
Back in April this year Jurgen Klopp told reporters that he was going to prioritise building the team from the back of the pitch this summer. He said that “when you build up a team, you start with the defence, that’s how it is,” – as quoted on This Is Anfield. Yet some fans might argue that so far in the transfer window, the strongest reinforcements have come at the other end of the pitch.
Team building though is a slow process and seasons past have seen Liverpool managers rush into making signings whose time at Anfield proved short-lived. So far this year the defensive improvements have been sparse but significant. There has been no Zlatan moment for Liverpool’s back line as there has been for the Manchester United forward line, under Jose Mourinho.
Jurgen Klopp, after all, is a very different man and manager to Mourinho whose main priority appears to be getting results fast regardless of long-term consequences. The former Dortmund boss seems eager to replicate past success by building up a team over time that can challenge for the game’s top honours. Even his first move in the rebuilding of his defence was a measured one.
Back at the start of the year, he enlisted Schalke and Cameroon international defender Joel Matip to join the Liverpool ranks during the summer. Then, in this transfer window, he sealed the capture of the experienced Estonian centre-half Ragnar Klavan who is expected to provide cover rather than being a first choice selection. He has also brought in young goalkeeper Loris Karius ostensibly to provide backup to Simon Mignolet but most likely to replace him in the long term.
Although Klopp has been a passionate supporter of Mignolet, some of his performances towards the end of last season would have tired the patience of a saint. And in recent years there have been plenty of those around thanks to Liverpool’s fondness for snatching players away from Southampton!
This summer they have gone back there too and sealed the signature of exciting and proven prospect Sadio Mane. Sure to score goals along the way, he adds, even more, panache to an attacking ensemble that includes Sturridge, Coutinho, Firmino, and fellow newbie Georginio Wijnaldum signed from Newcastle. Supporters then have few fears about the prospect of goals next season, and certainly, don’t anticipate a season like that which followed the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona. But fears still remain about the strength of the defence.
Rightly or wrongly there is a particular concern about the left back position where, as of now, Alberto Moreno seems set to once again start the season. Looking at pre-season fixtures it is either that or playing somebody else out of position – despite the availability of young Joe Gomez in the ranks. Signed from Charlton Athletic last summer, Gomez made a promising start under Brendan Rodgers before getting injured, and now struggling to feature in Klopp’s plans. Of course, the aforementioned Ragnar Klavan has played at left back in his career, but might not be quite the attacking option suited to Klopp’s preferred style.
There are recurring rumours though about the possibility of German international left-back Jonas Hector leaving FC Köln and heading to Anfield before the transfer window closes. Such a move would be greatly welcomed by fans who understand the need to be patient but at the same time want to see the Klopp revival gathering pace after last season’s close call with Europa glory. There is a real desire amongst the Anfield faithful for some form of silverware this season and a belief too that defensive mistakes over the past three seasons are part of the reason why another major honour is long overdue. It’s a hard fact for their fans to swallow that anyone born after the mid-1960s has now been alive for more years after Liverpool’s last league title in 1990 than they were before it. With the increasing wealth in football clustered around the few rather than the many, this could really be a make or break season for Liverpool.
Firstly the impact of Leicester’s title win last season gives momentum to the ambitions of everyone else in the Premier League. Secondly, City, United, and Chelsea are all going through transitions of one form or another. Then thirdly Tottenham and Arsenal are likely to bring with them the same doubts and inconsistencies that saw them slip at the final hurdle last season (taking nothing away from Leicester’s magnificence and their worthiness as undisputed champions). But whatever happens, things are going to be interesting at Anfield this season and if the team can get off to a flying start the development of the Klopp Empire really could speed up. The long wait for league glory might be coming to an end but right now I think a few pieces are still missing. They should though fall in place eventually because Klopp seems like he is there for the long haul.
Even though most of the football world will be watching out for Leicester’s title defence, some of us will pay as much attention to the Liverpool back line this season to see if Klopp is indeed building from the back as a means of taking Liverpool forward.
Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Steve Mcmetha.
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