Monday 15 July 2019

Depleted defence leaves Klopp facing 'difficult problem'

Mohamed Salah pounces on a mistake by Crystal Palace keeper Julian Speroni to give Liverpool the lead at Anfield on Saturday. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Mohamed Salah pounces on a mistake by Crystal Palace keeper Julian Speroni to give Liverpool the lead at Anfield on Saturday. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Simon Hughes

Just away from Anfield's main press room, a gleeful Jurgen Klopp was thrusting both of his hands into the air.

He was not recalling any of Liverpool's goals or even the sum total of those goals in what had been a draining 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace. Instead, he was remembering a tackle.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp issues instructions to substitute Rafa Camacho. Photo by David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp issues instructions to substitute Rafa Camacho. Photo by David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images

It was injury time and Wilfried Zaha was confronted by Rafa Camacho on the edge of Liverpool's 18-yard box.

Camacho, a teenager, had been introduced as a substitute moments earlier. A Premier League debut under pressure, because Palace were chasing Liverpool's lead - Liverpool were a man down following James Milner's red card - and Zaha had been Palace's most influential performer.

Noise seemed to get sucked away from the atmosphere because it was one of those tackles you could see coming; the way both players were running to meet the ball from a space of five yards or more.

For a second, Anfield experienced an acute mix of overwhelming dread laced with a whiff of opportunity.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Everyone knew that if Camacho got the first tackle of his Premier League career wrong, Palace had a penalty and most probably would have equalised. Teams that win leagues tend not to concede penalties at home to Palace in the 93rd minute and get away with it.

Massive

At the final whistle, Klopp was grabbing Camacho. "I told him immediately after the game that he'd already made the most important challenge of his life. I'm not sure he really got it - he looked at me like; 'What is he talking about?' - but it was really massive."

Camacho could have gone to Sporting Lisbon on loan this month but Klopp rejected the idea because of Joe Gomez's injury as well as his prior decision to allow Nathaniel Clyne some playing time at Bournemouth.

Milner's red card and Fabinho's injury - the Brazilian being another player with a history at right-back - means Camacho could feature against Leicester City if Trent Alexander-Arnold does not recover from his own injury.

Twelve months ago, Camacho was a winger in Liverpool's U-18 team. Steven Gerrard identified that his attacking instincts would be better harnessed from a deeper position and he decided to switch his role.

His development since has previously been labelled "outstanding" by Klopp, who sees comparisons in the Portuguese with Andy Robertson.

"He's good in defensive challenges," Klopp said.

"He's an offensive player in his mindset and everything but look at our full-backs and where are they most of the time? You need these offensive skills.

"On the other side, there will be moments when you are alone on the pitch against a world-class player and they are looking to nut-meg you or whatever.

"It is the learning process 'Robbo' went through. He was a fantastic left-winger but played full-back and now he is a full-back. That's really cool. I was really happy in that moment but I have seen similar situations from him before."

Palace put Liverpool through the mill and though Liverpool came through it - showing they can win another way - other opponents might target the right side of the defence from here, knowing that the players currently being chosen there because of the absence of others are not at the same level of those they have replaced.

It does not sound as though Klopp will enter the transfer market.

"It is a really difficult problem," he admitted.

"I can imagine what people think about this situation but you have to make decisions in moments when decisions are on the table. That's why 'Clyney' is not here anymore.

"In that moment, we had plenty of options and now we don't have them. That's how it is in our next games. Trent got an injury and it's serious but not that serious. He will be back early but I don't know if early enough for the next game. Maybe the game after.

"Everyone gives me the feeling - Trent as well - that that is absolutely possible but we have to wait and cannot risk anything.

"We have to come through this situation. Tell me a player who can play right-back and other positions as well or better than our boys like Rafa can."

Klopp revealed that Ki-Jana Hoever, the 16-year-old who impressed on his debut in the defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup, also has "a little injury."

Liverpool were fighting for their lives against Palace and when Milner was sent off, the first player Klopp used at right-back before Camacho's introduction was Roberto Firmino.

"It wasn't the perfect solution," Klopp conceded.

"It was a bit of a surprise, of course, but we had to react pretty quick and Bobby was a centre-half when he started playing..."

When Zaha raced at Firmino in a Palace counter-attack, Klopp thought, "My God" but Firmino dealt with the threat.

"That's what happens with a lack of oxygen: you do things you wouldn't normally do, but that's his desire and I loved that."

"In the end," Klopp reflected, "we defended with big heart and not with the best organisation." (© Independent News Service)

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