Let’s not pretend it’s only the Liverpool defence…

Date published: Wednesday 27th September 2017 12:05

On Monday, one tabloid reporter mentioned Brazil’s 1970 team in the opening paragraphs of his report from Liverpool’s 3-2 victory over Leicester, citing them as an example of a team whose marauding football took precedence over defensive duties. Cruyff’s Ajax and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were also name-checked, and at this point it was clear that the writer was just listing really good football teams. This incarnation of Liverpool has no place on such a list; this incarnation of Liverpool is too flawed to even merit mention in the same article. Sorry.

There will be debates about whether Loris Karius should have saved Spartak Moscow’s opener, but treat that as a tempting but largely irrelevant red herring. Liverpool’s failure to win in Russia was about missed chances and wrong decisions. If you have 64% possession and 16 shots, it is not the goalkeeper’s fault when you come away with just a point.

In the closing ten minutes alone, Daniel Sturridge fired over the bar, Roberto Firmino fluffed an almost-unfluffable final ball and Mo Salah headed straight at the goalkeeper. Extrapolate that over 90-odd minutes and take away one wonderful one-two between Sadio Mane and Coutinho and you have yet another extraordinarily frustrating performance from Liverpool. And this is nothing new.

We will do the maths for you; that’s Liverpool converting 5.55% of their shots and allowing the opposition to convert 24% of theirs. Almost all the attention has been on the defence for their contribution to that terrifying set of statistics, but almost equal amounts of approbation should be heaped on Liverpool’s attacking players. Faced with packed defences, they have too often been impatient and inaccurate, shooting from distance or snatching at chances.

And yet we have heard little of this problem because it does not fit the narrative of the Fab Four being forced to share a stage with the defensive equivalent of Freddie and the Dreamers. This is Brazil 1970, remember. Except of course that Brazil 1970 scored 19 goals and conceded seven in six games at that tournament; this Liverpool side has scored 12 and conceded 11 in six Premier League games. They should he ashamed of both numbers, not just the one that sends Gary Neville into a tut explosion.

In those six Premier League games, Liverpool and Tottenham have taken the most shots (120), with both teams partial to an ill-fated shot from distance. The Reds ‘boast’ a conversion rate of 10%, which is some way down on the title favourites Manchester City (17.8%), Manchester United (16.5%) and Chelsea (14.6%). It is absolutely true that Liverpool have major defensive issues, but we should not be absolving their much-heralded forward line of blame and screaming ‘if only’ solely in the direction of Virgil van Dijk.

In a week dominated by discussions about the merits of Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata and Sergio Aguero, it is notable that England’s other Champions League representatives do not have a player who can walk in such company. Jurgen Klopp’s contempt for conventional strikers is intriguing and infuriating in equal parts, particularly when Liverpool are dominating possession and missing only an instinctive finisher.

Daniel Sturridge could be that man, but he is too often introduced at such a late stage that you are basically asking him to take the one chance he is given. In Moscow, he was brought on early enough to make a difference, but Klopp hamstrung his team by taking off the dangerous Mane instead of the woefully off-form Roberto Firmino. Momentum and focus were lost, and were only regained in time for a flurry of late chances to be spurned.

“The chances we had were big enough to score two, three, four times. Where is the point for criticism? We played great. We tried really hard,” said a defensive Klopp in Moscow. But when you have 126 chances and only score seven, surely that is the point for criticism?

Sarah Winterburn

 


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