Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall reflects on Liverpool’s defensive crisis and looks ahead to the weekend clash at Brighton.
Liverpool didn’t muster a single shot on goal in the miserable 2-0 home defeat against Atalanta on Wednesday night.
But let’s be honest, our problems aren’t in attack.
Our ability to win big trophies this season won’t be down to a failure to create chances or score goals.
It’ll be decided by how often we can cobble a decent defence together in the matches that matter most.
In the impressive 3-0 home win over Leicester, the duo of Fabinho and Joel Matip looked just fine. Two class acts who know a thing or too.
But against Atalanta, the inexperience of our back line shone through. Perhaps Jurgen had got a little too complacent after winning the first match 5-0 in Italy. Because I expect I’m not the only Reds fan who winced when seeing the breaking team news on Twitter: a back four of Kostas Tsimikas, Matip, Rhys Williams and Neco Williams.
As Klopp might say, these boys have done really well when called upon. Tsimikas looked bright against Lincoln and, as a starter, he’s helped Greece keep clean sheets in their last two Nations League matches.
Rhys Williams has lots of composure for a 19-year-old while I like the energy of Neco Williams, who is gaining more experience by getting regular games for Wales.
Maybe the lesson is don’t chuck all three in at once – especially against Atalanta.
The Italians were the highest-scoring away side in Serie A last season and are second top on their travels this time. They scored four at both Torino and Lazio and four once more in their first Champions League away game at Midtjylland.
Looking at the Serie A table again, they’ve lost two of four at home with a negative goal difference. It’s making sense now. No wonder we beat them away but lost at Anfield!
Let’s get to the point though. I’m not trying to justify our loss (well, I am a bit). I’m trying to work out the big question on the lips of every Liverpool fan: do we have to go into the transfer market for a defender this January?
I’ve kicked this thought around in my noggin for a while now. And probably I shouldn’t let my head be turned by losing at home to a really excellent away team; one who reached the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League.
But that’s kind of the point. We’ll have to beat the better teams. If we are to win the Champions League or Premier League, we can’t do it by smoke and mirrors. We’re absolutely walking a defensive tightrope at the minute. In short, we have to act.
It’s not as if Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are coming back any time soon. If one or both were due to return in early February I think we could perhaps muddle on through. But they aren’t.
I’m a big Matip fan but his body breaks down too easily. And Fabinho doesn’t have that same level of robustness which the amazing Salah and Mane seem to have.
With the flurry of fixtures, I just can’t see how Matip gets through them all. And that means Fabinho – already a stand-in, don’t forget – will have to be paired with a youngster or another stop-gap.
It’s. Too. Risky.
The solution is to buy someone in the January transfer window. While a Kalidou Koulibaly (Sadio’s best mate) or a Dayot Upamecano (let’s pretend that 5-0 at Old Trafford didn’t happen) would be nice, I can’t see us splashing huge cash. After all, what happens to these players when van Dijk and Gomez return? We can’t just say thanks for the help and wave them off.
The answer is probably a veteran on a free transfer. And, no, not Steven Caulker. I haven’t got a name but remember when Gary McAllister came on a free and made a huge impact on our midfield. Yep, I want a defensive version of him.
So hopefully there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at Liverpool that we’re not aware about. Come on Michael Edwards, you do this transfer thing better than anyone. Work your magic again.
The ‘A’ word
Anyone else spot a pattern in our defeats this season?
Yes, we only have trouble against teams whose name begins with the letter ‘A’.
We got pulverised by Aston Villa, lost to Arsenal in both the Community Shield and EFL Cup. And then, of course, there was the Atalanta defeat on Wednesday night. Oh, who knocked us out of last season’s Champions League? Atletico Madrid.
Anyway, not that many team names start with the first letter of the alphabet so no worries. Oh, I’ve just noticed… our next visitors to Anfield are Ajax. Damn.
In truth, we were a little fortunate to win 1-0 in Amsterdam. Ridiculously, they followed that game with a 13-0 away win at VVV Venlo.
Since then, the Dutch outfit have drawn 2-2 at Atalanta and reeled off five straight wins including a pair of victories against Midtjylland in the Champions League. I don’t want to scaremonger but they’ve scored 20 goals in their last four away games!
Should we lose, we’d somehow have gone from almost being through after just four games to third in the group after five! We’d have 9 points with both Ajax and Atalanta (presuming they beat Midtjylland) on 10.
However, the maths then works in our favour. They meet each other in the final group game, meaning one of them will be left with 10 points due to a defeat or both will be on 11 via a draw. That means an away win against Midtjylland puts us through with 12.
One thing I haven’t read much about is how the lack of fans might be impacting our home performances in the Champions League. With those famous Anfield European nights on hold, we appear to be suffering from a lack of energy and drive while visiting sides have lost any element of fear.
We’ve looked flat at home against both Midtjylland and Atalanta although perhaps some jeopardy in the Ajax game will help provide a spark. Fans in stadiums can’t come back quickly enough though. Perhaps with the fake crowd noises being played out, we’re slightly forgetting that our 12th man is missing. And, on European nights, that negative is magnified.
Bring on Brighton
Anyway, enough of the A teams, let’s move to the B’s.
Next up in the Premier League is a trip to Brighton. They’re doing okay in terms of performances but, bottom line, Graham Potter’s men have a poor home record having had two draws and two defeats at the AMEX so far.
We’ve also won our last nine matches with Brighton. Salah, in particular, seems to have it in for them having scored five in his last five games against the Seagulls.
We were excellent against Leicester last time and I think the bookies are right to have us as favourites for the title still (5/4 Liverpool, 5/2 Man City, 5/1 Chelsea, 5/1 Tottenham, 33/1 Leicester, 40/1 Man Utd).
Ultimately, who do you trust most? Based on the last two seasons, it has to be Liverpool.
However, as stated, there’s a big caveat. I agree we can win it again but only if we can send out a proper defence for most of the remaining games.
And to do that, we just have to remove the huge element of risk by bringing in some smart defensive reinforcements in January.