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Does Liverpool’s defence still need improvement?



Although the Reds finished the 2020/21 season strong, claiming a solid third place, it will still go down as a campaign to forget after the heroics of 2019/20.

The post mortems have inevitably focused on one aspect more than the others: defence. To suffer season-ending injuries to all three first choice centre-halves is a run of bad luck from which few teams could recover. That Liverpool managed to finish third in the circumstances is a testament to the resilience that Jurgen Klopp has created in this squad.

It’s worth noting that they still finished with the fourth best defensive record in the Premier League, but inevitably they will be judged by the high standards set in the preceding two seasons, and they were some way short of that. In fact, with the heart of the defence missing, the team regressed towards the level they attained under Klopp prior to the arrival of Virgil van Dijk: entertaining and energetic, capable of breath-taking football, but ultimately too defensively fragile to win the big competitions.

So, was it a blip? Certainly, there is positive news out of the camp that suggests the Reds will have a full complement of defenders going into the 2021/22 campaign. According to the latest updates, all the players are injury free. Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are all at different stages of recovery, but it seems likely they will be fit for the start of the season, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, who picked up an injury on England duty is also fit enough to start featuring in pre-season fixtures.

Perhaps with last season’s woes in mind, Klopp has also moved to strengthen the centre of the Reds’ defence. This summer’s major acquisition is young central defensive star Ibrahima Konate. He arrives on Merseyside with a big reputation and a hefty £36 million price tag and according to recent reports from the squad’s training base, the new player will soon make his debut.

Konate’s arrival means that the Reds will go into the season with four high quality central defensive options, which should give them additional insurance, although the assumption has to be that last season’s nightmarish run of injuries will not recur. They may even be able to experiment with various three-centre-half line-ups, as Klopp looks to mix things up and evolve tactically.

With Liverpool’s big name central defenders fit and ready to go, there is no doubt that betting fans picking the winners will once again be rating them as the main threat to Manchester City’s crown. But is there room for further improvement?

With their issues in the centre of defence hopefully resolved, another defensive area that may need attention is on either flank. Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are two of the finest full back pairings anywhere in the world, but they don’t have a lot of back up. Neco Williams is a promising replacement at right back, but Kostas Tsimikas may not yet be ready to step up to the first team on a regular basis if Robertson was to be out for a lengthy spell.

The full-back positions have been crucial to Liverpool’s success, and there is a case for bringing in extra cover to offer versatility in that department, particularly if Klopp is considering toying with a back three, which would require full backs to serve as wing-backs. There has also been talk of Alexander-Arnold moving into midfield, which would obviously mean finding a defensive replacement.

As Gareth Southgate has discovered, English football seems particularly blessed with young right backs at the moment, and there could be opportunities for Klopp to acquire either a young potential star in the Alexander-Arnold mould or a ready-made experienced full back. Brighton star Tariq Lamptey could be one option, with Aston Villa’s Matty Cash another possibility and Real Betis’ Brazilian full back Emerson also worth considering.

With the new season fast approaching, the Reds look to be gearing up for a serious challenge and Liverpool fans have good reason to view the new campaign with optimism and excitement.

Ditching a corporate job to follow a dream isn’t easy, but when football comes calling, who can say no? Been following the beautiful game since 1998. Liverpool addict, F1 fanatic!