Thursday 22 August 2019

Defensive stats make for worrying reading for Liverpool but Gomez insists 'sloppy' errors will be ironed out

Central role: Joe Gomez is looking to cement a spot alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Photo: Getty Images
Central role: Joe Gomez is looking to cement a spot alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Photo: Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

Amid the euphoria of Liverpool winning their 13th European trophy, there were enough flaws in the performance against Chelsea to keep Jurgen Klopp occupied in his pursuit of perfection.

While his players set their sights on five more trophies this season, Klopp acknowledged improvement was needed despite the penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in the Super Cup in Istanbul.

"Sloppy," was how Joe Gomez described some of the defending. It is not the first time such an observation has been made this summer, even if some of the errors of pre-season could be attributed to a lack of sharpness.

Having built a reputation as the meanest defence in the Premier League last season, there is a worrying reverse so far this season. A year ago, opponents managed just 19 shots on target in the first three games against Liverpool.

It is over double that in the first three fixtures of 2019-'20, an eye-catching 40 attempts testing Alisson or stand-in Adrian.

Liverpool have looked more open and vulnerable, with an attempt to play a more aggressive style further up the pitch suffering teething problems.

Marauding

Even though Klopp was more pragmatic in selecting the conservative Gomez ahead of the marauding Trent Alexander-Arnold in Istanbul, Chelsea created enough chances to curse their misfortune.

"I think there were a lot of things we could have done better on a personal note and as a team," said Gomez.

"There were a few sloppy moments and we obviously conceded two goals which could have been prevented. As a collective, we did not play the best football in the first half and I don't think we got it down properly.

"There were phases we know we could have done better but at the end we all dug deep and tried to get the result.

"I think even not on our best day we can get a result which is what has changed and why we got so close to the Premier League.

"We were not at our best in spells but we improved."

Klopp can point to mitigating factors. Chelsea and Manchester City were always going to create more than West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton, against whom Liverpool secured three clean sheets at the start of the last season.

He is yet to settle on a first-choice centre-half pairing, Gomez and Joel Matip fighting for supremacy in the battle to become Virgil van Dijk's permanent partner.

Van Dijk's status has soared since his move to Anfield, reflected in his nomination for the UEFA Player of the Year award alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and Gomez's pace gives him the edge to play alongside him when Klopp wants his defence playing a higher line.

Alexander-Arnold was omitted from the starting line-up on Wednesday because his productivity pushing forward must be balanced with the potential for space to be left behind. City exploited that at Wembley in the Community Shield with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.

Christian Pulisic's inclusion in Turkey was another indication that opposing managers believe, for all Alexander-Arnold's attacking threat, Liverpool's right can be exposed if the youngster's running is not covered.

The enforced change of goalkeepers does not help Liverpool, either, although that does not explain the number of attempts created by City, Norwich and Chelsea.

Klopp also suggested the change in the offside rule - officials delaying before flagging - created a false impression of vulnerability.

"It is difficult how late offside is flagged because you constantly have the feeling that you are defending badly and it is not offside," he said.

"You are already worried and angry. Is the defence high enough or not?

"Sometimes it can be two or three yards offside and it is brilliant defending, but it doesn't feel like that.

"I think they have to talk about that rule again, or we have to get used to it, which is the more likely conclusion."

It would be harsh to shine the light solely on the defenders.

Liverpool's midfield is not functioning as Klopp would wish, dreadfully unbalanced in the first half against Chelsea, only transformed when Roberto Firmino came to the rescue, with the striker's ability to knit the team together from deep ensuring his side kept possession more effectively.

The players head to Southampton tomorrow buoyed by another trophy. "It is relentless but it is part and parcel to be at the top," said Gomez.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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