Liverpool Squad Analysis – The Defensive Unit

It’s that time of year again when the transfer window opens and people lose their mind over players we’re linked with but don’t sign. At some point, those that always go mad about the Reds not spending a billion pound per transfer window by signing every single lad that we’re linked with will realise that we’re not actually looking at them, but that journalists know that they’ll get clicks by pretending that we are. Of course, by the same token you’d hope that at some point I’d learn not to get so annoyed by people being annoyed, but that shows no signs of changing any time soon. It is a sad truth of the modern era that journalism nowadays is more about writing something outrageous in order to get clicks onto websites than it is about anything approaching the truth. That that came along at the same time as people being permanently outraged on social media means that anyone that would consider themselves to be sensible is destined to be forever disappointed that people keep falling for the clickbait.

I have been accused of clickbait myself in the past, usually when I write what I consider to be an entirely reasonable piece about a player or the owners. Just this morning I saw a tweet from one of the big LFC accounts saying that there is no rebuild taking place this summer, in spite of the fact that we were promised that the club would ‘go big’. Bearing in mind that we’ve already signed World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister, loads of our rumoured targets are away at the Under-21s tournament and it’s not even July yet, there’s an extent to which I actually admire such a dedication to being angry about everything all the time. As someone who has endured their share of health issues over the years, believe me when I say that it can’t be good to be so annoyed about anything that happens if it doesn’t meet your exact requirements. There is definitely an extent to which some people just need to wait and see where things are in August before their head explodes.

There Are Issues At The Back

Given the fact that Alisson Becker was, at least in the eyes of most sensible people, out player of the season in 2022-2023, I’m not going to worry too much about the goalkeeping department. It would be sad if Caoimhín Kelleher left Liverpool this summer, given his potential, but reserve goalkeepers aren’t usually the key to a successful campaign and he’s number two to the best in the world, so you can’t blame him for wanting to move on. The issues, therefore, are in the defence proper. Whilst Virgil van Dijk is still an excellent centre-back and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone, there is little question that he wasn’t at his best at times last season. Given the level that he performed to for a long time, it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world if he’d dropped off a touch. Even at his worst he’s still better than 99% of defenders in the Premier League, so we’re dependent on him performing well regularly. That is a problem in and of itself, of course, and a long-term replacement needs to be thought about.

Ibrahima Konaté is one hell of a footballer and might be able to step up into that role given his youth, but his regular injury issues are a concern. If we can keep him fit then we’ll be most ok, but if we can’t then we’ll have to consider how much we’re able to to depend upon him. There are rumours aplenty of Joël Matip being moved on this summer, which makes sense to me. As much as the Cameroonian has been a brilliant servant for the Reds and is up there with James Milner as being one of the best free signings we’ve had, his own injury issues stop him from being a genuine option that Jürgen Klopp can rely upon. Fitting into that same bracket is Joe Gomez, who is a good player that could’ve been a great one. That word ‘injuries’ crops up again with Joe, causing him to lose pace to the extent that he would now require our backline to drop deeper in order to allow him to feel more comfortable with everything. That’s not going to happen, though, so I’m not sure he can really be depended upon.

The Trent Question

A fully fit Konaté and a back-to-his-best van Dijk would allow Liverpool’s centre-backs to be compared to any in the league, but that is thin ice that is liable to crack at any moment. For the Frenchman in particular, a question around the role of Trent Alexander-Arnold needs to be answered before we can know what sort of backup we should be looking for. If Trent is going to continue to play this hybrid role that we saw towards the end of last season, Konaté’s importance goes up another level. He has the physicality and athleticism to effectively play as a right-back and centre-back at the same time, but I’m not sure anyone else does. If Matip stays, for example, I wouldn’t want to see him doing it very often. It might suit Gomez, given he’s covered right-back in the past, but his lack of dependability when it comes to his body means we’d be taking a massive risk to go into the new season with him being the main cover for the right side of the defence.

If, on the other hand, Trent is going to move into midfield permanently then we need a new right-back. Calvin Ramsey spent longer on the treatment table than the substitutes bench last season, so it’s not like he can be depended upon. Using Alexander-Arnold in the midfield will mean that we need to buy one fewer body for the middle of the park, but it actually causes more problems than answers elsewhere. Andy Robertson, meanwhile, remains an excellent player but had his moments last season. When you realise how many miles there are in his legs, it isn’t a surprise that he’s perhaps starting to come to the end of his natural lifecycle as our first-choice left-back. The fact that many seem to think that Kostas Tsimikas is leaving means that there is even more surgery to be done than many might have accepted. Whilst midfield remains the problem area for Liverpool, the more you look at the defence the more you realise that it is a house of cards, ready to fall at any moment.

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