Liverpool came close to winning the Premier League last season and a huge reason for that was their defensive quality. The Reds managed to keep 21 clean sheets from 38 matches over the course of the campaign. Virgil van Dijk went on to win the PFA Player of the Year award, with his performances standing out in the heart of the back four at Anfield. It was expected that they would go on to have a similar record this season, but the early signs have been worrying ones and Jurgen Klopp needs to reverse the trend before it gets even worse.
In the four matches they have already played this season, Liverpool have conceded in each of them. This includes the Community Shield and the European Super Cup. Their opening Premier League match against Norwich showed early indications of rustiness in the defence, which wasn’t helped by the injury to Alisson. The newly-promoted visitors managed to have 12 attempts on goal, with eight of those coming inside the box. This was more than any team managed last season at Anfield, including Manchester City.
Norwich are known for their attacking style of football, which does leave them open at the back, as shown by Liverpool’s four goals. However, Klopp will have been frustrated by the chances offered to the away side. Although they only amounted to an xG (expected goals) of 0.9, there was a lot more space and time for opposition attackers to operate in.
This was followed up by a European Super Cup affair that saw Chelsea create a number of good opportunities. The Blues had 20 attempts over the course of 90 minutes, which was only one fewer than Liverpool. It was an open contest, with neither team looking more dominant. Considering the criticism levelled at Frank Lampard’s tactical naivety at Stamford Bridge, it was another concern for Klopp. His team should have had more control.
It is the match against Southampton that will concern Klopp most of all. The Saints were unlucky to lose the match, having outscored Liverpool in xG 1.8 to 1.7. Che Adams missed one gilt-edged chance. Further to that, the home side managed to have a number of shots from around the penalty spot. They got into these areas with regularity and were the better team, especially in the first half.
Liverpool didn’t manage to control the game, as they often did last season. They will suggest that the short turnaround from the European Super Cup was a major factor in the disappointing display. However, their defence hasn’t looked convincing in any of their first four matches and there is certainly reason to be concerned ahead of this weekend’s match against Arsenal.
They will be coming up against some excellent players in the Gunners’ front line. Although they can be conservative at times under Unai Emery, the Spaniard will be looking at the early defensive form of Liverpool with encouragement.
That said, it could be the test required to sharpen minds in the Liverpool back four. The matches against Manchester City and Chelsea weren’t competitive ones and the level of focus may not have been there. This weekend could provide the perfect opportunity to get back to their best with a clean sheet.