If this is the point in the season when Jurgen Klopp begins to think seriously about his summer transfer strategy – not least the considerable task of sorting out that pesky defence – then the past few weeks will likely have brought as much confusion as clarity.
Liverpool might have edged past Stoke on Saturday but it was little thanks to their perennially shaky backline, who would have conceded rather more goals than they did were it not for the heroics of Simon Mignolet (you read that sentence right – do not adjust your set). Any discussion of Liverpool's defence is by now well-trodden ground, but it is by far the most benevolent of the Premier League’s top six, having overseen just a single clean sheet since the start of 2017. So it was no surprise at the Britannia when a chaotic first half for Klopp’s backline concluded with Jon Walters sauntering into the six-yard box, not a marker in sight, to head home his customary goal against the Merseysiders.
The freewheeling ease of Walters’ goal came to mind two days later, when Arsenal’s repeated attempts to breach Crystal Palace’s defence were repelled by Sam Allardyce’s battle-hardened gang of clean-sheet fetishists, led with murderous intent by a certain Liverpool employee.
Mamadou Sakho, who was ostracised and ousted by Klopp after various breaches of club discipline, joined a Palace side that was in dire straits, conceding goals at the rate of roughly two a game and looking verily doomed. Since coming into the side he has been sensational, Palace having won five in six and marching steadily towards midtable safety, four clean sheets thrown in for good measure.
One notable moment in Monday night’s game came when Sakho locked horns with Olivier Giroud, Arsenal’s brick outhouse of a target man, inside the penalty area. The French defender left his countryman in a crumpled heap, beaten for strength, aggression and desire, appealing in vain for a penalty he didn’t deserve.
It was a moment that contrasted starkly to the freedom given to Walters by his former team-mates on Saturday, and indeed that given to strikers of similar stature over recent months. Benik Afobe, Shane Long, Fernando Llorente, Mikhail Antonio, Sam Vokes and Salomon Rondon have all scored against Liverpool in the time since Sakho last kicked a ball for the club – all centre-forwards who are very much the proverbial “handful”, even if they don’t have a pinch of elite talent between them.
Sakho had already attained cult-hero status among a sizeable faction of Liverpool fans before his exile, so his sparkling form since joining Palace has merely loudened the debate about Klopp’s decision to swing the axe. That his notional berth on the left side of defence has been largely taken by Lucas Leiva – a repurposed midfielder who has looked exactly that – or Ragnar Klavan – an ageing, cut-price signing who has, well, looked exactly that – has hardly helped Klopp’s cause.
The fact that Sakho was dispensed with for disciplinary rather than footballing reasons muddies the debate a bit, although whether it should do is another question. Sporting talent is only one contributing factor towards an effective team; if Klopp feels Sakho was a harmful influence then who’s to say he wasn’t bang on in that judgment? By all accounts, the club want rid of the defender for good and the fact that their stance has not changed in the wake of recent events is telling – although you’d like to think they might keep an open mind.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Don’t shoot Jurgen Klopp for letting Mamadou Sakho leave on loan