Looking At Liverpool’s Squad: The Defensive Third

Every year I have a look at the Liverpool squad from back to front, analysing it as I personally see it. Every year I receive Tweets, emails and comments from people who completely disagree on my take on things. That’s ok; life would be pretty boring if we all agreed with each other all of the time. I don’t think that my opinion is definitive, that it is unarguably correct and that if the club doesn’t act on my advice then nothing but unadulterated disaster will follow. After all, I spent last summer and the January transfer window saying that we should be going all out to buy a central defender, only for Jürgen Klopp to completely ignore such an idea, play Fabinho there against Bayern Munich and watch as the Reds racked up ninety-seven points in the Premier League and win the Champions League. As always, I readily admit that the German knows far more about football than I ever will. That being said, I’ve been watching Liverpool for a long time and I know the mistakes the club has made in the past when it’s felt as though it’s been in a winning position.

I wrote about that particular phenomenon on Monday, so I’m not going to go over the same ground here. The key point is that the football club’s stock hasn’t been higher since the end of the 1980s, marrying a European Cup win with a top-flight points haul that would have seen them win the league any season other than the past two. Now is the time to strike whilst the iron’s hot when it comes to potential transfers, but does the squad actually need that much of an overhaul? Over the next week I’ll be having a look at the different parts of it and making my own personal judgement call, which you’ll doubtless disagree with. If you do then either say something in the comments below or get in touch with me on Twitter to let me know. The main thing is that we all want the same thing, which is for Liverpool Football Club to improve where possible. Plenty point to Klopp’s comments after the 2018 Champions League final that the Real Madrid squad had stuck together for years, but they failed to win a trophy of note last season, so is that definitely a good thing?

The Goalkeepers

Talking about the goalkeepers is an interesting task because we’re simultaneously massively strong and also in need of refreshment. Surely not many people would argue that Alisson Becker is anything other than one of the best goalkeepers in the world right now, even if some of his play is enough to test the heart-health of the older members of the crowd. I’ve argued in the past that the Brazilian is the most important signing we’ve made in some time, even ahead of Virgil van Dijk, for the simple reason that the drop-off from him to his number two is far greater than in other positions. He’s been a colossus for us since he signed and I think he’s only going to get better in the coming seasons.

When it comes to Simon Mignolet, however, regular readers will know that I’ve never been the Belgian’s biggest fan. It’s not that I think he’s rubbish, as I don’t. It’s just that I don’t think he’s anywhere near good enough to be the shot-stopper for a team challenging for the title. Whilst I’m aware that Klopp made major changes to the teams, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the two competitions we under-performed in were the ones that Mignolet took over goalkeeping duty for. The drop-off from Alisson to him is too big and, to make matters worse, he doesn’t suit our style of play under the German manager. I was dismayed to read of the club’s desire to keep him this week as I think improving on him is an obvious and easy win for us.

The Defence

Speaking of a colossus, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being blown away by what a wonderful defender Virgil van Dijk is. The combination of him and Alisson has been enough to see us go from a team that conceded sixty-three times in all competitions in 2017-2018 to one that let in just thirty-eight goals last time out. He’s a wonderful player that I’m already scared to lose at some point in the future, given the difference he’s made to us at the back. The question, then, comes down to who should be partnering him at the back and that is where we come slightly unstuck. At the start of the 2018-2019 campaign Joe Gomez looked nailed on for the berth, but his subsequent absence with yet another injury proved problematic. Yes, I’m aware it wasn’t the same type of injury as he’s had before but sooner rather than later he’ll look prone if he keeps missing a large number of games every season.

Given that neither Joel Matip nor Dejan Lovren are all that more reliable, it begins to look like a problem position if you don’t have anything other than absolute faith in all of their abilities to remain fit for the next year. I think Matip’s improvement means that he’s rightly been praised for the last couple of months, but Lovren’s inability to actually get onto the pitch means that he’s rapidly becoming a waste of a shirt. It’s the one spot I will continually bang the drum for needing a new player in, despite everyone else’s conviction that the fact we can play Fabinho there means it’s fine. When it comes to our full-backs you’d have to be particularly craven to say there’s much we can do to improve on either Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andy Robertson, given their arguably the two best players in the positions in the world at the moment, but the replacements we have for them definitely could be better. We aren’t being linked with any, however, which makes me fear another season of an older, slower James Milner and a Joe Gomez that doesn’t suit playing there.

Overall Score:

Given my opinion that we need to buy a new backup goalkeeper, a new centre-back and a player that can cover both full-backs, I’m giving the defensive unit a 7 out 10.

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