Liverpool's Squad Review - Who Stays and Who Goes in Defence
The first section on Liverpool's status going into the close season dealt with the goalkeepers. Now, it's time for the rearguard. It’s no secret the Reds haven’t had the best defence in the league for some time. In most seasons, it's been their Achilles heel.
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in 2016, he brought some new faces intended to change how the back line played. One was Joel Matip, a central defender from Schalke. Similarly, this January, he brought in Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton in a £75 million pound deal, making him the most expensive defender ever. But after two years at the helm, where does Klopp’s defence stand?
The Dutch international was the focus of Liverpool transfer rumours for three windows. Pep Guardiola was involved in the race to sign him. After acrimonious accusations of tapping up temporarily derailed their pursuit, the Merseysiders finally got their man in January.
In 20 appearances for the Reds, Van Dijk made an average of 5.6 clearances per game. That number is lower than his average at Southampton (6.5), but Liverpool plays a high-pressing game. He looked solid after his mid-season introduction but didn't quite recapture the form that made top managers swoon over him.
Additionally, he was brought in to provide extra goal threat in set pieces, something he regularly did for Southampton. Beyond his first match, in which he headed home the winner, that aspect of his game has been dormant.
VVD's drop in form could be attributed to the mid-season change, however. Things should look up in the new season.
The Croatian had a roller-coaster season. One game, he would offer a performance that would rate him among the league's best. The next, he would play a sloppy pass that would lead to a goal.
In his 41 games for the Reds, Lovren averaged 4.9 clearances per game in the Premier League. In the Champions League, he fared a little better with 5.4. While he has two goals and two assists to his name, Lovren is too inconsistent to be considered for a starting spot.
Matip was brought in from Schalke in 2016. The Cameroonian made close to 30 appearances in his debut season. In 2017/18, he played 31 times for the Reds. However, his game isn’t any better than Lovren or Van Dijk's. With only 3.8 clearances and 1.4 interceptions per league game, he ranks towards the lower half within the squad.
Klopp needs centre-backs who are confident, intelligent and fearless if he wants to challenge for the title. Despite having the physical attributes to be a top centre back, Matip fails due to his temperament and attitude.
The 32-year-old Estonian was brought in from Augsburg in 2016. Klopp had the right areas identified for improvement, but not the right players. In his two seasons at the club, Klavan has made 46 appearances in a Liverpool shirt. In 2017/18, he made 26 appearances averaging 3.8 clearances and 0.7 interceptions per game.
Despite his experience, the former Augsburg man failed to hold down a spot. Add an inability to challenge in the air or time his tackles well, and you get another body to warm the bench.
Klavan's contract expires next year. This summer should have been the perfect opportunity to offload him. However, Liverpool’s transfer activity suggests that's unlikely.
Bought last summer from Hull City, the Scot delivered 5 assists and a goal in 30 appearances over four competitions. The former Tiger made an average 1.5 successful tackles per match this season and remained dominant in the air as well.
With a promising debut season under his belt, continued hard work will secure his starting place.
The 19-year-old England international made the transition from the youth to first team in 2016. He made only seven appearances in his first season, but featured 29 times for the Reds in 2017/18.
Alexander-Arnold used his pace to cause defenders all sorts of trouble. He scored two goals and provided two assists this past season. If anything, Arnold represents a bright prospect for the Liverpool squad. If nurtured properly, he can be a great asset to Klopp and the Kop.
Clyne made only 4 appearances this season. He missed out due to his back injury, but is expected to be back in action next season. The question is whether he can win his place back from young Alexander-Arnold.
Gomez broke into the Liverpool first team after his transfer from Charlton in 2015. That season, he made only 7 appearances, but in 2017/18 he appeared 28 times for the Reds. The 21-year-old made an average of 1.9 interceptions and 2.4 clearances per game. Gomez has the potential to be a future Liverpool star but, like Arnold, he needs more experience at the top level.
Moreno has already spent four seasons at Anfield. He was Liverpool’s starter on the left, able to dribble, cross and link up with the forward in overloading the opposition’s defense. His only weakness remains aerial challenges.
However, despite being agile and fast, Moreno’s defensive work isn’t as impressive as his attacking output. In 24 appearances, he made only 2.6 clearances, 0.9 interceptions and 2.2 successful tackles per game. With one goal and three assists, Moreno has shown that he has talent. But, at 25-year-old, he needs to do more.
Klopp tried various options in his back four last season. None were outstandingly successful. Alexander-Arnold was good enough to earn an England call. The others have been inconsistent at best. Klopp needs to choose his best options and play them regularly.
Without consistent game time, they aren’t going to make an impact. Another option is to bring in an established central defender and two fullbacks. Klopp can sell the rest, save for Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez and Van Dijk.