Three games have elapsed for Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool in the Premier League and plenty of things have been inferred from those outings. While Southampton recruit Sadio Mane already appears to be a shrewd signing by the Anfield club, fellow incomers Georginio Wijnaldum and Ragnar Klavan have looked anything but impressive. Former Schalke 04 defender Joel Matip made the switch from Schalke to Merseyside too and was handed his first start of the season against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. The Cameroonian international started slowly but grew into the game as it wore on and managed to nullify the combined threat of Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen. Given how poor Liverpool were defensively against Arsenal and Burnley in their previous two clashes, Klopp must have felt a whole lot better despite having dropped two points by his own admission.
And that remains a key area for the German to address and strengthen. An improved performance in North London on Saturday did not render his side’s defensive vulnerability moot. While James Milner has deputised well at left-back following Alberto Moreno’s poor start to the season, the ideal centre-back pairing for the rest of the campaign has proved to be a dicey situation for the manager to comprehend. Klopp sanctioned the departure of Martin Skrtel to Fenerbahce and allowed Kolo Toure to leave at the end of the 2015-16 season, leaving Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho as the only senior players left to fill those gaps. With the latter out of favour at Anfield following a bunch of undesirable antics during Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States, Klopp saw Klavan and Matip, who had agreed to join the club back in January as fitting replacements for Toure and Skrtel.
Prior to their moves to England, Klavan and Matip plied their trade in the Bundesliga with Augsburg and Schalke 04 respectively and were instrumental in their side’s domestic and continental endeavours. However, statistics indicate Matip made far more interceptions than his Estonian counterpart and marginally edged him out in terms of blocks. As far as key passes are concerned, Matip made nine of them, beating Klavan’s total of seven. With both centre-backs even poised in several defensive aspects, it must be noted they ousted Dejan Lovren in each of them although the Croatian made far fewer league appearances than the duo.
With Sakho’s future uncertain, it is automatically assumed that these three defenders will form the bedrock of Liverpool’s rearguard for the season. While Matip boasts superior defensive statistics when compared to his colleagues, it remains to be seen whether he immediately adapts to the pace and rhythm of English football. In these circumstances, Klopp will turn to Lovren, given his Premier League pedigree and pick one of Matip and Klavan for the majority of Liverpool’s fixtures this season. What makes this decision slightly tricky for the manager is the absence of European football this year at Anfield and if Liverpool are to suffer an early EFL Cup exit, they will only have the Premier League to think about till the first week of January.
Going by Liverpool’s performance at Tottenham on Saturday, one might favour the duo of Lovren and Matip in defence. These are early days though and a bout of uncertainty continues to plague the minds of the Liverpool faithful. A difficult year awaits.