Liverpool's Champions League ambitions hang on Jurgen Klopp's untrustworthy defence

Chris Bascombe
Liverpool have shipped goals for fun this season - Rex Features

A season which began with Liverpool threatening to secure Champions League football with an attacking blitz is ending with Jurgen Klopp having to rely on his untrustworthy defence.

Little wonder having momentarily turned doubters into believers, the anxiety epidemic has once more engulfed Anfield. Demanding an injury hit side grind out one win, as they did at Stoke, was plausible. Grinding out two consecutive wins, as they did at West Bromwich Albion, was more encouraging.

The law of averages (or average defending from corners) caught up with them at home to Crystal Palace last weekend, and evidence they can secure four more ugly victories to finish in the top four – starting at Watford on Monday night - is not compelling. Liverpool are not that type of team. The necessity for reinvention could not have come at a worse time.

Vicarage Road is another venue where Liverpool have toiled recently. Last season Klopp lamented the lack of physicality in a 3-0 defeat.

“I’m not sure if it was the worst game but it was very bad,” he said.

Liverpool continue to be undone by their defensive flaws Credit: Getty Images

“Watford are different since then – different manager, different players – and we are different since then too. You can’t compare. It’s not about the place, Watford, but they are a physical team with a lot of tall players so we have to deal with throw-ins and all that. We know about their football in this moment. We have had a lot of physical games in the last few weeks with a lot of challenges and we know we need to be ready for this game.”

As so often, Klopp can analyse the flavour of the match before kick-off - long balls, direct football, set-piece mayhem and the targeting of his centre-backs. Dealing with it is a different matter.

Sam Allardyce spent much of last weekend’s victorious Anfield press conference offering a damning verdict of Liverpool’s defensive frailties.

Jurgen Klopp still has plenty of work ahead of him at Liverpool Credit: Reuters

The observations were not revelatory, but the brutality of it was.

Allardyce could not resist polishing his own ego with talk of a tactical masterclass, but his words resonated with the Kop support who have seen the same mistakes since long before Klopp’s reign.

Going into this weekend’s fixtures Liverpool have still scored more goals than anyone else in the Premier League. Their flaw is they have conceded 42 – just one less than Middlesbrough ahead of Sunday's games.

Last season Liverpool conceded 50 goals in 38 games, the previous season 48 and even the year they finished second it was an undermining 50.

In defence of his players, Klopp observed the demands of being a centre-back for Liverpool are significantly different to clubs who prefer cautious football.

Klopp, like Brendan Rodgers, was appointed to impose an attacking style.

Mamadou Sakho has been imperious for Palace while on loan

Inevitably, adventurous is more risky. That’s why Dejan Lovren conceded fewer goals per game in his one season as a Southampton player than during his three so far at Anfield; and why some will yearn for the return of Mamadou Sakho – error prone at Liverpool but imperious at a more defensive Crystal Palace.

“If you defend deep then you have a lot of legs and help around, that’s how it is,” says Klopp.

“A centre-half for a top team is playing with a lot of space at the back.

That’s how Tottenham act, how City act and sometimes how Arsenal act.

Manchester United are for sure a bit different. That is the situation you have to involve a lot of players usually in offensive things, you cannot be offensive with two players in a counter attack when there are already eight from the other team in their own half or box. So, yes, of course it is more difficult.”

That poses the question what difference spending £50 million on another centre-back this summer will really make?

Virgil Van Dijk excelled when fit for Southampton in the first half of the season, but they too are a highly defensive side. He will have to adjust to an open style should he choose Liverpool.

“If we go for a centre half we need to know how he acts in big spaces,” said Klopp.

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“We cannot go for a centre-half off Bayern Munich for example, they have similar problems that we have. You have to imagine how he will react in different situations. All clubs defend in some moments high. It is about being football smart and they have make the right decision in the right moment. It was two wrong decisions in one situation (against Palace). Then it is really difficult. But defending high is not a problem, it is only a different job. That is why counter-pressing is so useful.”

In the meantime, the Merseysiders are starting to resemble that London Marathon runner stumbling towards the finish, desperately in need of someone – anyone – to inspire a decisive dash to the line.

They will hope Adam Lallana, fit again but obviously not match sharp, makes a difference.

“I do not feel fear – not one second so far,” said Klopp.

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