Listen to any pundit across Match of the Day and various other media platforms, and a mention of Liverpool’s ‘dodgy’ defence is inevitable.
Despite Jurgen Klopp’s side being top of the Premier League after eleven games, having played (and won) at Arsenal and Chelsea and drawn with Tottenham and Manchester United, the image that Liverpool’s defence is weak still exists.
Whilst Liverpool clearly are not the best defensive team in the world (and why would they want to be when they are playing as attractively as they are going the other way?), the illusion that they cannot defend is somewhat strange. You don’t get to the top of the Premier League without having a good team, and criticising the most entertaining team in the country is slightly unfair.
Liverpool conceded eight shots on target to Watford last Sunday, and let in one goal. In contrast, they had 17 shots on Watford’s goal, and scored six. Watford’s ratio of shots-to-goals-conceded was far worse.
Over the course of the season, the same has been the case – Liverpool’s goal difference is second only to Chelsea. They have conceded more than double what Tottenham have, but what use is that when Spurs have five fewer points having drawn more than they have won?
Alan Shearer argued that eventually Liverpool will need to keep a clean sheet to win a game, and he may well be right, but right now you would back them to score at least two-per-match. They might have only kept one clean sheet in the league so far, but frankly that is irrelevant when you are scoring at such a rate – 2.27 goals-per-game, to be exact.
In seasons gone by a soft centre could have been their downfall. Now, Joel Matip is superb and Dejan Lovren alongside him has actually looked comfortable. James Milner has been a revelation at left-back whilst Nathaniel Clyne always performs consistently at eight or nine out of ten. Even Lucas was excellent vs. Watford in Lovren’s absence.
Liverpool’s attacking line-up can often create the perception that they concede a lot. The defence can sometimes be exposed, but not as often as you might expect. The balance is there.
Compare the defence of now to that of the team that ran Manchester City so close in 2014, and it looks far better. Aly Cissokho was playing the last time, as was Kolo Toure. Enough said.
The defence is not exclusively about the back four, with the pressing from the front right the way through the team an important contribution defensively. Strange then, that at the same time that Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino are lauded as being revolutionary, the same people suggest Liverpool cannot defend – a contradiction if ever there was one.
Liverpool’s defence is not any worse than some of the other title contenders; any team that finishes above the Reds this season will be hell of a unit.
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