The desired upside of the death of Britain’s monarch was that Liverpool would get to start their season again so to speak, after a short break, and return as the title contenders we knew. It was a nice idea, but the side failed to deliver against Brighton.
For the most part, the Reds look quite good! There is some stuttering but at least at times, there is evidence of menacing waves swarming forward testing the extremities of opposition defenses. Most opponents have clung on at times during almost every match this season.
However, the consistency of the tempo is lacking and Jurgen Klopp must be scratching his head to discover the chemistry that will bring about 90 minutes of heavy metal. Chemistry takes time but looks closer as players more familiar with each other are on the field together.
Attacking the Defensive Concerns
Of far more concern to Liverpool is not just that they are conceding goals, but how. Mistakes on the backline have been costly! The defensive set-up is solid but the execution is lacking. Van Dijk has made some soft poor touch and judgment errors, Gomez had to be pulled from the Napoli game with an apparent fitness issue, while Alexander-Arnold has been repeatedly exploited.
And this isn’t anything new! Last November, in my article “Defeating the Double Pivot”, we looked at opponents’ favored way of attacking the Reds and nothing has changed. The path of least resistance still goes through the left side of Klopp’s midfield before switching the point of attack over to the other side of the back line.
For all the talent that Trent Alexander-Arnold possesses he remains the weak link in the defense. There has been aware of this for a considerable time. But whereas players and teams can adjust and compensate, opponents have targeted this area of the defense with increasing frequency and yielding greater results. In short, Trent’s been found out as a defender.
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What We Saw Saturday
Against Brighton, he looked like a training ground cone. An object to dribble the ball around rather than a defender to beat! His poorly directed header followed by a stumble saw Liverpool concede their first.
His loss of possession, while intercepting, left him out of position, leading to the overlaps that created the second. Midfielders can take calculated chances; defenders have to keep it tight.
And we can see that the Manager himself can see the issue. At times this season Alexander-Arnold isn’t even asked to backtrack. He’ll stay in a midfield position when only one or two players push upfield as part of the opposition attack. The Reds resorted more to this against Brighton later in the game, leaving him higher up the field more and using his counter threat to keep the Seagulls from throwing another man forward.
Pundits have written for some time that he would be better deployed in midfield, at times I’ve tended to agree. The loss of his outstanding work from deep positions would be a negative, and Liverpool has always been able to cope, as other players could compensate for his shortcomings. But the side has reached the point where they need another solution.
Certainly, Klopp doesn’t support moving him into midfield! The personnel moves just don’t demonstrate it. Trent is the guy at right-back! Gomez is a cover option, but they want him to establish himself in central defense again. Milner really is only situational cover, while young Calvin Ramsay is still a project.
So Klopp must find a solution with the players around him! To do that the close passing counters that opponents use to break through Liverpool’s left have to be broken up. Thiago can read the plays over there but if it falls on him to stop them he’ll have two yellows in 15 minutes. For me, the side has no choice but to be ready to drop a forward into midfield more quickly in these situations.
The remaining alternative would be a personnel change. Do we get to see young Ramsay getting some playing time? Can Elliott understand enough about defensive positioning to play back there? Could Tsimikas or Robertson move over from the left side?
No matter what Jurgen Klopp says publicly; privately the questions are being asked!