The Champions’ Squad Evaluation: The Defensive Unit

The euphoria of Liverpool Football Club being declared Premier League champions will last for varying lengths of time in different people. For some, they’ll be happy to ignore any ‘grown-up’ conversations for months, content in the knowledge that the Holy Grail has finally been reached. For others, Jordan Henderson had barely hoisted the trophy above his head before they started to discuss transfers and a desire to improve from a position of strength. Personally, I sit somewhere in the middle. The reality is that successful teams are always looking forward. If you don’t believe me, consider John Barnes’ story about what happened after he won his first title with Liverpool. “Ronnie Moran came in and had the medals in a plastic bag. He put them on the table and said: ‘Four weeks till pre-season lads’. That made a huge impression on me.” If you want to succeed, you always need to be think about what’s next.

We should absolutely look to bask in the glory of what we’ve won and, for me, those criticising Fenway Sports Group simply look like utter morons. Yet it’s also true that we need to take a moment to assess where we’re at and what comes next. The best place to start is by looking at the players within the squad and deciding the areas that we could strengthen. That’s what I’ll be doing over the next three weeks, starting here with a look at the defensive unit. There is, of course, a massive difference between what I personally think and what Jürgen Klopp thinks about his squad. It goes without saying that the German’s opinion is the only one that matters, so this piece is a consideration of what I would do if I was in charge of Liverpool’s transfer strategy this summer. I’m quite sure that if the manager ever read it he would emit one of his boisterous laughs and explain to me exactly why I’m completely wrong…

The Goalkeepers

I’ve always considered the goalkeeper to be part of the defensive unit rather than something entirely separate, which is why I had such a big problem with Simon Mignolet. No-one in the backline ever seemed to know what he was going to do from one minute to the next, so the unit completely lacked cohesion. That has all changed with the signing of Alisson Becker, who is not only one of the best goalkeepers in world football, if not the best, but who also works brilliantly alongside the rest of the defence. Sufficed to say, there’s not much to talk about when it comes to the Brazilian shot-stopper. Hopefully next season he’ll stay fit for the duration and not have any mad moments in which he gets sent off, giving him the opportunity to reclaim his Golden Gloves.

As for Adrián, things are slightly more complicated. It’s difficult to counter the argument that we’d still be in the Champions League if Alisson had been between the sticks for the second-leg of the game against Atletico Madrid rather than the former West Ham man, but it’s also fair to point out that he was never supposed to play as many games as he has this season. A backup goalkeeper should get the domestic cups and be there in case of emergency, whereas Adrián had to cover our number one for months. Let’s not forget that we remained unbeaten during that period and he slotted in seamlessly, so there’s not a lot to complain about on that front. For me, he’s an adequate number two and I’m just hoping that we see an awful lot less of him during the 2021-2022 campaign.

The Centre-Backs

It’s an odd one when it comes to our centre-backs. On the one hand, Virgil van Dijk is the best central defender in the world and there were times during the season when Joe Gomez played better than him. On the other, how much of our defensive solidity is down to the fact that our number four played every minute of every league game has yet to be tested. Joel Matip is a much better defender than many people think and an adequate backup to the pair of them, but the fact that he’s so unreliable in terms of fitness means that we look short at the back heading into the new season.

I was glad we sold Dejan Lovren. I’ve always had more faith in him than most, but I felt that his time at the club had come to an end. The issue is that it leaves us with three senior centre-backs moving forward, which just isn’t enough. I’m not convinced that young players and using the likes of Fabinho at the back is a sensible move, so I’d like to see us sign a player around the twenty-four to twenty-five-year-old mark that has a good fitness record. Do that and I’ll be more confident that we’ll be able to cope if van Dijk is missing for any length of time during the coming season.

The Full-Backs

Not much needs to be said about Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, does it? The two of them are not only brilliant defensively but are the best two attacking full-backs in the country. There’s even an argument that they’re the best in the world. The only question mark is over their cover. Neco Williams has looked really strong when we’ve seen him cover for Trent, though I’m less convinced that he’s able to act as a suitable deputy for the left-back slot. I also never want to see James Milner play there ever again.

For me, then, adequate cover for left-back is a must. I’d personally look to opt for a player that can cover both full-back positions, meaning that there isn’t too much pressure on Neco Williams if Trent gets a bad injury. Allowing Williams to develop at his own pace is really important for his long-term future. Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are not easy players to find adequate cover for and maybe Jürgen Klopp thinks he can do it by altering our formation, but I’d prefer to do that as little as possible. A centre-back and full-back this summer and I’ll be happy.

  1. August 4, 2020
    • August 10, 2020

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