You would have to forgive me for writing this if Liverpool had thumped Burnley at Anfield, but, regardless, any victory against Sean Dyche’s side would not have masked the current issues plaguing Jürgen Klopp and his Reds (and actually Liverpool did not win anyway, with the 1-1 draw emphasising their problems).
Liverpool are undoubtedly progressing, as they have been ever since Klopp took charge in October 2015, replacing Brendan Rodgers. Two cup finals before the start of his first full season, followed by a top four finish – Klopp, despite unprecedented competition in the Premier League, is slowly dragging Liverpool back towards the elite.
The German has also installed a scintillating style of football, with attack always the best form of defence for Klopp’s Liverpool. Their firepower is feared throughout England, and soon Europe.
Defence an issue, but not the only one
At the back, Liverpool have continued to struggle under Klopp, as they did with Rodgers. Rafael Benítez was the last Liverpool manager to successfully combine a strong defence with a potent attack, and Liverpool fans have since resigned themselves to an incredibly joyous, but frustrating, rollercoaster ride under Rodgers and Klopp.
Trophies are rarely won without solid defences however, and despite how close Liverpool have come to winning titles – most notably the 2014 Premier League, 2016 League Cup and 2016 Europa League – with their explosive attacking talent, the club have still only experienced one major success in over a decade, thanks to Kenny Dalglish’s 2012 League Cup triumph.
Yet it is not all about defence. For the last seven years since Benítez’s departure, Liverpool still have possessed excellent defenders, and have signed excellent defenders from different clubs. All these players cannot have become bad overnight. Yes everyone makes mistakes, and some certainly make more than others – Dejan Lovren for example – but they still remain quality players.
The same stance can be applied for the coaching. Rodgers may have his critics, but Klopp less so. This is a man who led Borussia Dortmund to multiple Bundesliga titles, despite the prominence of Bayern Munich, and a Champions League final.
Klopp’s Dortmund did not have a leaky defence, even though the German club played a very similar style to what Klopp has implemented at Anfield. Instead, Dortmund carried different qualities that Liverpool at the moment lack.
Leadership, concentration, nous and discipline – all of which brought consistency as a consequence.
Papering over the cracks?
Klopp may be right to proclaim that he already has enough quality at his disposal as Liverpool boss, or he may just be trying to keep up the morale of his players while he strives in vain for reinforcements, such as Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool may indeed have the quality to succeed, but lack the mentality of Klopp’s Dortmund.
The Reds can certainly defend when they want to, as the closing stages of last season proved. With Sadio Mané injured and Liverpool struggling to replicate their creative pre-Christmas brilliance, the Reds tried to replicate José Mourinho with their own version of ‘winning ugly’.
Narrow wins over Burnley, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Watford, followed by comfortable victories against West Ham United and Middlesbrough, meant Liverpool scraped a top four finish, just a point ahead of Arsenal.
Yet Liverpool kept five clean sheets in their final six league games last season, vital for their end-of-season form given their inconsistencies in front of goal.
In the main however, Klopp’s Liverpool are an attacking side, and will inevitably suffer defensively when compared with the likes of Mourinho. Liverpool will never resemble an Italian defence under Klopp in the long-term, but they can make quick improvements by cutting out mistakes and adopting those special qualities that Klopp’s Dortmund team possessed.
Liverpool have lacked leaders since the Benítez-era team broke up, losing figures such as Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. Jordan Henderson is a fine player, but was simply the best option in the wake of Gerrard’s departure, and lacks the world-class quality and experience to be the captain of a team wanting to win trophies.
Van Dijk reportedly was to be offered the Liverpool captaincy some time after his arrival, as Klopp not only values the Dutchman’s quality but also his leadership and organisation.
For too long now, Liverpool have only relied on momentum. Momentum is a powerful ally, but also a fragile one, and Liverpool have experienced this too often in recent years, with no Plan B for when their momentum crashes apart, such as against Chelsea and Crystal Palace during the 2014 title challenge.
Increasingly, it appears that new players who have those qualities are needed for Liverpool to progress further under Klopp.