Jurgen Klopp’s spluttering Liverpool team faced a barrage of criticism in the British media after Sunday’s 4-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur which one observer predicted would be the worst defensive display of the season by any top-tier side.
The normally assured German has seldom had to deal with such negativity in his two years at Anfield but with the club languishing in ninth place, 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, the pressure is cranking up.
Such is the rollercoaster of modern football that reflections on Liverpool’s 7-0 trouncing of Maribor in the Champions League last week have been crowded out by talk of their defensive frailties.
The statistics are damning. Liverpool have conceded more goals, 16 in nine games, than in any campaign since 1964-65 and shipped more away from home than bottom side Crystal Palace.
Writing in the normally supportive Liverpool Echo, James Pearce said Sunday’s display was the worst by a Liverpool side since the 6-1 hiding at Stoke in May 2015 when the regime of Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers started to unravel.
Liverpool’s defensive problems have been well documented, with doubts regularly aired about keeper Simon Mignolet and whichever combination of defenders Klopp settles on.
Each of Sunday’s four goals stemmed from individual errors, some comically bad.
“The first (goal) would not happen if I was on the pitch but I am in the middle of the technical area in my trainers,” said Klopp.
“It is unbelievably easy to defend, to close the space, we only have to clear the ball, shoe it, we don’t do it.”
Six months ago Liverpool gave centre half Dejan Lovren a new four-year deal, reported to be worth 100,000 pounds ($132,000) a week. If you include the 20 million pounds they spent on buying him from Southampton, and his wages to date, that represents a 50 million-pound investment in a player who on Sunday was so poor that he was substituted after 30 minutes.
“It was Dejan Lovren who took the walk of shame, but Juergen Klopp could have taken his whole defence off after 31 minutes and returned them to the manufacturer as faulty goods,” wrote Paul Hayward in the Telegraph.
Four of the back five on show predated Klopp’s arrival, with Joel Matip, who arrived on a free from Schalke, his only signing. Andy Robertson, the one defender Klopp did pay money for, has seldom played since his 10 million-pound move from Hull City.
It all adds up to a confusing picture with supporters unsure whether to blame the inadequacies of individual players, Klopp’s inability to coach defending, or Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s sporting director, who is in charge of player recruitment.
Edwards is widely blamed for the botched attempt to sign Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk in the last transfer window, and Liverpool’s inability to identify alternative targets.
Yet up against them on Sunday was Davinson Sanchez, who Tottenham bought from Ajax for 40 million pounds and the Colombian looks precisely the sort of defender Liverpool need.
Klopp may yet return for Van Dijk in January although, with Southampton showing no more inclination to sell, the German may have to agree to look elsewhere or come up with a different tactical plan.
His back line is not helped by a midfield pairing of Jordan Henderson and Emre Can who seldom shield in the way N’Golo Kante does at Chelsea, for example, while Klopp’s indecision over his best goalkeeper has added to the air of fragility.
In the short term the only answer lies on the training ground.
“We have to prove we are better defenders than we showed,” Klopp said. “I cannot fix it here but we will fix it. We have to work on it.”
The clock is ticking.