September 20, 2021, 19:05

Liverpool’s same old defensive problems resurface in defeat to Tottenham

Liverpool’s same old defensive problems resurface in defeat to Tottenham

Individual errors, conceding from set-pieces and a goalkeeper mistake… Liverpool’s defeat to Spurs had a familiar feel, writes Peter Smith.

Liverpool fans have seen these faults before. But on Sunday all of the defensive flaws which have dogged this team in recent seasons were glaringly on show at Wembley, allowing Tottenham to romp to a 4-1 win.

There were the individual errors from Dejan Lovren, who was substituted in the 31st minute after gifting Spurs their first two. Then there were the same old set-piece errors for the third and fourth, with the final Tottenham strike also featuring the latest howler from a Liverpool goalkeeper.

“The whole game, the whole result was very much our fault,” conceded a frustrated Jurgen Klopp to Sky Sports after the game.

Here, we look at Liverpool’s familiar failings…

Liverpool’s blues on the road

Liverpool have conceded 15 Premier League goals away this season – more than any other team.

Individual mistakes

First, there was the ill-advised decision to step up and try to catch Harry Kane offside when right-back Joe Gomez was playing him on, before a failure to head clear allowed the Spurs striker to race through for a one-on-one he superbly converted. Then there was the reckless attempt to head a Hugo Lloris throw; miscalculating the flight allowed Kane to storm into Liverpool territory and cross for Heung-Min Son to add a second.

They were eight first-half minutes to forget for Dejan Lovren and two costly misjudgements which, with not even a quarter of an hour on the clock, left his team-mates a mountain to climb.

Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry saw a “raw fear” of Kane in Lovren’s performance and he was subbed off after 31 minutes. Over the past three seasons, among Liverpool players, only goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (six) has made more errors leading directly to goals than Lovren (three), according to Opta. No outfield player has made more than his six errors leading to opposition shots.

But this isn’t just about Lovren. It’s a recurring theme throughout this Liverpool defence. Since 2015/16, only West Ham have made more errors leading to goals, only Swansea more errors leading to shots. They’re damning and alarming stats for a team aiming to battle much higher up the table than those two sides.

“Going forward they’re as good as anybody, but if I was playing in this team it would drive me mad with how many individual mistakes this back four makes,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp. “These are individual mistakes being made time and time again and that’s why the manager wanted to buy a centre-back in the summer.

“They are just not good enough individually, collectively. I don’t care what you do with them, they are going to keep on making these mistakes week in, week out.”

Failure to defend set pieces

Since Klopp took charge of Liverpool two years ago, Watford, Stoke City and Crystal Palace are the only teams who have conceded more goals from set pieces. It’s a problem Klopp has expressed his frustration with in the past and it damaged Liverpool’s chances of getting back into this match.

At 2-1, in first-half injury time, Emre Can lost possession to Dele Alli and, chasing back, brought down the Spurs attacker. The free-kick was in a deep, central area but Liverpool’s defence retreated to the edge of their box and strung out across the 18-yard line.

Christian Eriksen’s free-kick was only half headed clear by Joel Matip and Alli was there to pounce on the second ball and shoot into the bottom corner. So what went wrong? Henry suggested goalkeeper Simon Mignolet should have called for Matip to leave the pass into the box, with no Spurs players in his vicinity.

Jurgen Klopp insists his Liverpool side can turn their form around but says they must take a collective responsibility to improve

Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, though, was critical of the defensive formation Liverpool took up. “Liverpool went back into a wide free-kick defensive shape,” he explained. “They didn’t need to, the two centre-backs for Tottenham hadn’t come up the pitch. They should have just played normally.

“But it meant everybody was in a line on the edge of the box. It was a poor header from Matip but they didn’t need to go back into that seven in a line for that free-kick” – a set-up which meant there was no one on hand to beat Alli to the loose ball.

Goalkeeper errors

Whether Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius plays, Liverpool can’t get away from their goalkeeper problems. On Sunday it was the Belgian’s turn, rushing off his line into a crowd of bodies to try to claim a crossed free-kick. He only managed to parry his attempted catch, allowing first Jan Vertonghen, and then Kane the opportunity to fire into the unguarded net from close range.

Watch highlights of Tottenham 4-1 Liverpool

“It’s typical of what that goalkeeper does,” said Neville on commentary after Kane had converted. There was an argument he should have stayed on his line for Tottenham’s opener, too, and indeed, since his debut for Liverpool in August 2013, Mignolet has made more errors leading to a goal than any other player in the Premier League (13).

Time for change?

So how can Liverpool buck the trend? Neville says the defence needs personnel changes.

“If you’re making mistakes at Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea and you’re making them constantly, you don’t get in the team,” said Neville. “You get dropped. You get sold. But I have to say, watching these Liverpool defenders over a period of three or four years, I can’t believe some of them are still there.

“They would have won a league, probably, in the last three or four years if they could defend. That’s where it is. It’s not being harsh. We’re setting a standard here of where they should be, where they have been in the past.”

Henry agrees and suggests Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk – who Liverpool tried to sign in the summer – would be a beneficial addition. “Tony Adams and Sol Campbell were commanding and alert and defending balls for you,” said the former Arsenal striker. “Would he [Van Dijk] change everything for you? No. But it will definitely make things better and have an instant impact on that defence.”

Meanwhile, Redknapp believes Liverpool are lacking leaders in the heart of their defence. “When I look at Tottenham’s back three with Toby Alderweireld and Vertonghen they have leaders,” he said. “They are commanding and tell their midfielders where to go. I don’t see leaders at Liverpool. That is the major problem with that Liverpool back four.”

Somehow, Klopp must find a solution to these recurring problems.


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