Do Liverpool have the second-best defence in the Premier League?
The enduring criticism levelled at Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool this season has been their permeable defence. An error-prone, ill-disciplined, and disorganised back line supposedly undermined their attacking efficacy.
Such weaknesses saw them surrender a three-goal lead away to Sevilla in the Champions League group-stage. They were also thrashed 4-1 by Spurs in October and humiliated 5-0 by Manchester City in September's heady days. All that is why many Liverpool fans approached last week's return quarter-final leg against Pep Guardiola's men with trepidation. They had a history of giving up sizeable leads, of caving.
Yet for all the narrative surrounding Liverpool's defensive deficiencies, one startling stat appears to dispel such doubts. The Reds have kept the second most clean sheets in the Premier League, one behind Manchester United's 15. Although they have conceded the most goals in the top five, their 35 shipped being six more than seventh-place Burnley, Klopp's average a clean sheet roughly every other game.
The Reds have conceded just six goals in the league since the ex-Celtic player's arrival from the South Coast. To attribute such a massive upturn in defensive performance, and thus results, to one player's inclusion would be folly. Defence must be a collective effort. The group had to realise their unreliability was the biggest obstacle to tangible success in the form of silverware. If VVD's presence was the catalyst, so be it, but it cannot be the entire story.
Measuring any quality based on one statistic is a narrow tool for analysis. Still, this one does suggest Liverpool's defensive woes are not as catastrophic as many believe. Further data seems to offer a resolute defence for Liverpool's, well, resolute defence.
Since Virgil van Dijk's arrival, the Reds have the best defensive record in the league, better than both Manchester United and City. If the table began from the date of van Dijk's debut, Liverpool would be first, City second, and Tottenham third. Not only does this represent the tremendous form Klopp's side have been in since in the turn of the year, it also underscores their £75 million signing's importance.
In handing Loris Karius the no.1 jersey, Klopp has imbued his fellow German with confidence. The keeper no longer approaches games with anxiety regarding his place. Consequently, he is more composed and assured on the pitch. Inevitably this has translated into improved performance. While he may not be the long-term solution, Karius has certainly had a hand in Liverpool's staggering defensive evolution.
Dejan Lovren has, too. The Croatian defender possesses quality but has been too often guilty of the odd, costly error. In fostering a steady partnership with Van Dijk, the Croat has progressed. He is beginning to represent the defender Liverpool thought they had purchased when forking over £20 million to Southampton for his services.
Young Andrew Robertson has balanced a defence that was always covering for the eccentric Alberto Moreno. The 24-year-old Scot has endeared himself to the Reds with consistency in his defensive duties and electricity going forward. Alexander-Arnold Trent has also fronted up to the responsibility at the right-back spot with bravery. He develops with each passing game.
All these elements have come together to form a defence that, for the first time under Klopp, looks steady. Conceding just one goal against a multi-faceted, breathless Manchester City attack is perhaps the biggest testament to such developments. Should this new-found defensive solidity carry forward into next year, Liverpool can feasibly mount a credible assault on City's crown. After all, they are top of the table since January 23rd.