It’s about time that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp mixed it up in terms of who he picks in defence. The standard of defending seen in recent times from the team has not been good enough – despite some solid statistics at Anfield so far this season. The main culprit is Croatian international centre-back Dejan Lovren. No amount of support from the stands or dugout appears to make any difference to the level of consistency he is able to perform to. Since arriving from Southampton back in the Summer of 2014 he has shown time after time that he cannot be trusted, particularly against Crystal Palace for some reason, and it is way past the time that he should have been moved down the pecking order.
When Klopp took over the job from predecessor Brendan Rodgers back in October of 2015, many supporters hoped that clearing out the players who were letting the side down would be one of the first things the German would take care of. But here we are two years later and not only are the likes of Lovren and serial offender Simon Mignolet still regulars in the side, but they’ve been handed contract extensions and payrises. Some have pointed to protecting their value as reasoning behind giving them the new deals, as well as for confidence reasons, but neither is going to cause a stampede in the transfer market if we decide to let them move on. Mignolet has made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League since he was brought in from Sunderland back in 2013. Many will point to improved performances from the Belgian last season as key to us making a return to the Champions League stage, but he’s reverted to the liability he so often is this season and we need better than he is offering. Making him captain against West Ham recently was yet another attempt to add some belief into his game – as well as a glaring highlighting of how little leadership there is in this squad.
The performance of Joe Gomez for England, on his debut, against Brazil this week was further proof that Klopp is showing too much faith in the likes of Lovren. Gomez marshaled the threat of Paris Saint Germain superstar Neymar brilliantly and, while it wasn’t a competitive game, that has to be applauded. The former Charlton Athletic defender is not a right-back, but he has been asked to fill in there in the absence of Nathaniel Clyne so far during this campaign. We also have Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jon Flangan as backups for that spot in the side, so it wouldn’t be a disaster to give Gomez a chance alongside Joel Matip. The former Cameroon international may not be one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League, but he is currently our most consistent performer there and he is not benefiting from partnering either Lovren or the equally shaky Ragnar Klavan – with the pair of them always looking capable of dropping an error that will cost the team. Each of them are more than capable of losing concentration for a moment in the box and being made to pay for it with alarming regularity. They’ve been given ample time and chances to show what they’re capable of and they look fourth choice options at best – and they’re blocking Gomez’s path to the team in his preferred position at present.
Klopp appear to understand that the defence hasn’t been good enough since he took the job – but how well?
The former Borussia Dortmund manager identified Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk as one of his two main Summer transfer targets. So it would seem that he has seen that he needs to add a defensive leader to his backline. But his inability to move on to an alternative target coupled with his assertion that there aren’t five centre-backs out there better than what he has available was difficult to swallow for many fans. While it was a massive positive to see the Holland international turn down interest from clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in favour of a switch to Anfield, it was incredibly foolish not to add at least a stop-gap to the ranks. We have the addition of Champions League football this season and few will feel confident of going far with the defensive options we currently have – even if Djimi Traore has a winners’ medal from 2005. Klopp had the chance to make moves for either type of option before the transfer window closed with the inevitable lack of a move for van Dijk. Colombia international Davinson Sanchez was available at Ajax for the fee of £45m and seasoned German international Benedikt Howedes, who used to partner Matip there, was a loan option. The latter ended up joining Spurs, adding to their impressive defensive unit, and the Schalke man made the switch to spend the season with Italian champions Juventus. Would either have preferred a move to Anfield? We don’t know, but it would’ve been nice to find out. And that’s before you consider that the club baulked at the price around the neck of Napoli’s defensive star Kalidou Koulibaly.
Klopp is in a corner until at least January in terms of what he can do to try and shore up a concerning defence – a defence which should have been more of a priority back in the Summer. The only signing made to add to the options was Scotland international Andrew Robertson, who arrived from relegated Hull City for around £8m. That didn’t excite many but it gave people hope that we would have a genuine left-back in the side following right-footed midfielder James Milner plugging the gap last season. As it’s transpired, a rejuvenated Alberto Moreno has reclaimed the position after looking cut adrift following a year of getting splinters in his backside on the bench. His rise has been capped off with a recall to the Spanish national squad this past fortnight. Few will have seen his reinstating to the first XI coming and many will be hoping he has cut out the calamitous defensive errors that became his trademark in his first couple of seasons at Anfield. How he reacts if/when he does make a mistake that leads to a goal being conceded will be a character defining moment for the ex-Sevilla man.
When you tally up the money Klopp has spent trying to patch up a troubled defensive unit it starts to show just how much of a priority it has been for him. Matip was free, Klavan cost around £4m and Robertson cost double that. The other defender brought to the club under Klopp’s watch was Steven Caulker, who spent more of his time on the pitch up front as Klopp went for broke trying to snatch late results. It’s not encouraging and it makes the calamitous pursuit of van Dijk look even more costly.
My personal view is that Klopp should drop both Mignolet and Lovren from the first-team. I would have had Moreno on that list until his recent improvement in form. He still could return to the recycle bin, but his current run of form means that he doesn’t deserve to be dropped. I would take Mignolet and Lovren out of the picture and give Gomez and Danny Ward a chance to show what they can do. Neither could realistically be as bad as either of the current pair and it would give us an opportunity to see if there are players capable of saving us money in the transfer market. Well, that’s if Klopp is actually looking to sign a centre-back and goalkeeper any time soon. The chase of Van Dijk says at least one of those positions is being prioritised at last. We may still end up bringing the Dutchman to the club, but the highly impressive start to the season made by Pep Guardiola’s side may have the former Celtic man reconsidering his options and thinking he made a lucky escape in being in the position to be able to rethink his plans. City may not be keen to sign him next year, but it would be a surprise if they didn’t at least hold a lingering interest in the best centre-back in the league.
Until we are in a position to land Klopp’s targets, my opinion is that he should shake up the defensive unit and give chances to some players who haven’t shown without doubt that they cannot be trusted to perform. Ward was very good at Aberdeen and excellent in his loan spell at Huddersfield Town as they gained an unlikely promotion to the top flight last season. While Gomez showed on Tuesday night at Wembley just why he’s believed to have so much potential to become an England regular for the next decade.
Take a chance Jurgen.