Wednesday 18 September 2019

Liverpool lead the way despite getting away with vulnerabilities at the back

Danny Ings misses a glorious late chance to earn a point for Southampton in their 2-1 defeat against Liverpool. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images
Danny Ings misses a glorious late chance to earn a point for Southampton in their 2-1 defeat against Liverpool. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

Top of the league with a handy two-point buffer already to Manchester City and the Uefa Super Cup safely in the cabinet; it has ostensibly been a perfect start for Liverpool.

Appearances can be deceptive, though, and amid the plethora of statistics that will be dissected this week by the big brains inside Liverpool's analytics department, one piece of data will surely be prompting particular cause for thought.

Opening matches against Norwich and Southampton hardly add up to the most testing early schedule and yet Liverpool have absorbed 26 shots. They went double that number of games for so many shots last season, when they finished with the meanest defence in the league.

Add in the 20 attempts that Chelsea had in Wednesday's Super Cup and, even allowing for obvious caveats about being at only a nascent stage of the season, Liverpool do look surprisingly open in defence.

It was evident also in pre-season, when the only clean sheet was against Tranmere and, although winning was the overwhelming priority against Southampton after the squad arrived back from Istanbul on Thursday evening, they again rode their luck. Had Danny Ings made contact with a simple late chance in the 2-1 win at St Mary's, the post-match narrative would have been very different.

So what explains this vulnerability? The starting point is in goal, especially after Adrian's second-half blunder ensured a nervous finale on Saturday. Yes, Alisson also got away with mistakes last season, and Adrian was playing with a swollen ankle, but there was a wider air of susceptibility.

There were other clearances that caused nerves to flutter and, in competing with a City team who will drop so few points, Adrian's contribution over the next six weeks could quite conceivably decide whether there is another lasting Premier League title challenge.

"How is he going to react to the mistake - I think that is more important than the mistake itself," said Georginio Wijnaldum, who admitted that it is now vital for the players to improve their on-field understanding with their new goalkeeper.


The statistics also suggest full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is perceived by opponents as a potential weak point. Manchester City, Norwich City and Southampton have all decisively attacked more often down Liverpool's right than their left.

Chelsea's attacks were more evenly balanced in the Super Cup, and this was the one match this season that Alexander-Arnold did not start, with Jurgen Klopp opting for Joe Gomez.

Andrew Robertson, the left-back, felt the concession of a "stupid" goal was the catalyst for the added Southampton pressure. "We will need to be better, and we will be," he said.

The key for Liverpool, however, is probably in midfield and finding a balance that combines attacking fluency with the necessary defensive protection. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's first Premier League start since April 2018 underlined Klopp's options and it was interesting after the game to hear how he is emphatically not looking to find a settled three.

Indeed, with Liverpool making no new signings but now having the option of Oxlade-Chamberlain to add to Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and James Milner, Klopp suggested this strength in numbers could be Liverpool's biggest asset. "No player should play 50 or 60 games a season, especially not in these intense positions," he said.

"Goalie and a centre-half maybe do it but all the rest: Give whatever you have and next game maybe somebody else will do the job. But we can only do that if they all stay fit. I don't have a favourite midfield. I like them all."

Klopp especially enjoyed how his team battled after Wednesday's exertions, most visually in the way Milner returned following a head wound with a bandage on his head.

"It's this old-fashioned attitude I really love," said Klopp. "Not everything was better in the past but a couple of things were really good.

"I like the attitude of the boys; coming here and fighting for the three points, like they were the last three points ever in the Premier League.

"We don't go for excuses. We decide when we are tired, nobody else. That's the attitude which brought us to the finals we played and that's what we have to continue." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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