Liverpool’s defensive issues put into perspective by unexpected source

Liverpool warmed up for a crunch midweek Champions League qualifying second leg with Hoffenheim by overcoming bogey side Crystal Palace at Anfield to record their first Premier League win of the season.

Still unbeaten, though, the Reds have some positives to take from the opening games of the season, even if there are clear improvements to be made.

After conceding three goals away to Watford last weekend, and having rested some of their key players ahead of the midweek European game, perhaps that’s why a clean sheet and a solid defensive performance stands out as one of the most pleasing aspects of the win.

Although Palace are in the process of morphing into a different beast under Frank de Boer, they still have the height and power of Christian Benteke to cause a problem for most teams, especially when, like Liverpool, their defending at set-pieces has spent a week on a slide under the national media’s microscope.

A new centre back has clearly been on Jurgen Klopp’s shopping list this summer. The Virgil van Dijk saga may still be rumbling on, but it’s clear that Liverpool need extra help in that department. But this weekend’s performance from Ragnar Klavan might give Liverpool some hope that they can lean on the Estonian as a reliable second choice – especially now European football will put extra demands on Klopp’s squad. Demands that weren’t a problem last year.

The Estonian defender excelled in his task up against Benteke, winning six aerial duels in the entire game – no other player on the pitch bettered that total – and making four clearances. Only Scott Dann at the other end made more, though that’s surely to be expected given the away team at Anfield are usually the ones who should spend most of the game under the cosh. In this case, that was very much the case, as the home side took over 70% of the possession of the ball.

Perhaps, though, that wasn’t the most impressive part of Klavan’s performance. It’s probably the part he’ll receive most of the praise for, and it’s perhaps the steady defensive solidity that Liverpool will be most pleased about. But it should be the bread and butter for a defender, at least when he plays well. More important, though, is his ability to keep up with his team in recycling possession and helping to launch attacks was evident. When Klavan is partnered with Joel Matip, the Estonian certainly won’t be considered the more sophisticated ball-playing defender between the two, but it was Klavan who had more touches, played more passes and even had the better pass accuracy.

None of this is to say that Liverpool have found their best centre-half pairing in Matip and Klavan, and none of it says that Klopp and the board shouldn’t be on the look-out for another defender in the final week or so of the transfer window. But it is to say that when the basics are done right, that gives the team a much better ability to win football games.

It is now five clean sheets in the last six Premier League games for Liverpool, a stat which feels at odds with the recent narrative around the club, but one which should put things into perspective.