“The whole game and the whole result was pretty much all of our fault. Tottenham were good but we made it too easy for them. We came here for a result and didn’t get a chance to get one with the way we defended in these four situations – that’s just not good enough. All the situations are easy to defend.”
The German has seen it all before. He has answered the same questions before, faced the same criticisms and, presumably, covered the same bases with his players.
Time and time again.
Yet it does not seem to be sinking in. Tottenham did not have to work very hard for their opener. Kieran Trippier‘s throw was worked back to him and he lifted a routine ball down the channel for Harry Kane to chase. Dejan Lovren inexplicably stepped out, allowing Kane to dart in behind him.
That was bad enough. But then Simon Mignolet – for reasons known only by himself – tore off his line to leave the Premier League’s most in-form striker with an open goal to tap the ball into. Kane duly obliged.
The second was every bit as bad. Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris hurled the ball out quickly and Lovren, again, was caught out horribly. Kane – perhaps unsurprisingly given the Croatian’s rap sheet – anticipated the error and set off into clear green space before picking out the run of Heung-min Son to double Tottenham’s lead.
By that stage Klopp had seen enough. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was readied on the bench and, after just 31 minutes, Lovren was hauled off.
In commentary, Martin Tyler and Gary Neville speculated – perhaps kindly – that the former Southampton defender was struggling with a pre-existing back injury. But as Neville sagely observed, Lovren’s struggles were nothing to do with his back. It was simply rank-bad decision making from a player who is big enough and ugly enough to know better.
Asked afterwards why he had hooked the former Lyon defender, Klopp said: “I really don’t want to blame players. Dejan, to be honest, was not worse than Joel.
“We had to change something and we had to try to make sure we were a little bit more stabilised. We needed another protection in the half space – it actually didn’t work too well, but that was the idea behind it.”
To the surprise of many, the Croatian international was named in the starting XI. However, he pulled up during the warm-up and Ragnar Klavan replaced him. Liverpool kept a clean sheet. The Reds followed that up with another against Maribor before finally being breached during the 4-1 win over West Ham.
With Klavan beside Matip, Liverpool conceded just the one goal in three matches. But Lovren is in line to start against his former club, Southampton, on Saturday despite his form not warranting this.
That is a sore point for all concerned. There is little more Klopp can do than drill his defence at Melwood day in day out, until they start to get the basic decisions right. Once they cross the white line, as the saying goes, they’re on their own.
But one area where Klopp has to accept responsibility is the failure to secure another centre-back over the summer. When interest in long-term Liverpool transfer target Virgil van Dijk finally ended Klopp refused to move for a secondary target in preference of the Dutchman.
It is a decision he must now rue.
Yet he is not forced to start Lovren. There are alternatives. One is Klavan, the Estonian who followed Klopp to Anfield from Bundesliga side Augsburg last summer. He has featured sparingly since and been afforded just three Premier League starts this season.
What probably hasn’t helped is his part in the 5-0 demolition at the hands of Manchester City. While he was far from the worst performer in red on the day, he was flat-footed for Sergio Agüero‘s opener and caught underneath the cross for the second as Gabriel Jesus headed home.
That’s not, however, to say Klavan is the solution either. Despite Lovren’s litany of errors, the 31-year-old is clearly not entrusted to start for a reason. He comes out second best to Lovren in all of the measures above – even having played half as many games last term – and has made his fair share of individual errors during his Anfield career.
A longer-term alternative for Klopp is to move Joe Gomez into the heart of his defence. The former Charlton Athletic youngster, despite playing predominantly at full-back for the Reds, is a centre-half by trade. In his full England debut he was awarded the Man of the Match award, pocketing Neymar in the process.
Gomez certainly has the raw attributes to excel centrally. He is tall, quick and strong. And while Gomez has yet to play at centre-back in a two for Liverpool this season, it’s where he’s been playing for England’s Under-21s.
In the still above Gomez (circled in red) is drawn towards the ball leaving the Scotland attacker (circled in yellow) free in the box. It’s the kind of decision which could be punished and will leave Klopp with reservations. But, on this occasion, Gomez stands his ground and makes a good challenge to end the visitors’ attack.
Earlier in the same match, Gomez demonstrates his pace, going toe-to-toe with a Scotland attacker from a ball over the top before getting the better of his man and nudging the ball back to Three lions goalkeeper Angus Gunn.
And in another, against the Netherlands in September, Gomez highlights his impressive reading of the game and positional awareness to cut out a dangerous ball in from the right-hand side.
With his central defensive partner the wrong side of the Dutch centre-forward, Gomez takes it upon himself to be proactive, darting into the box to meet the cross and stabbing clear for a corner.
Perhaps, therefore, Gomez could provide some respite in the centre of defence. He has impressed in his secondary position of full-back already and, at 20, is one for the future. He will make mistakes but he is at an age where he is malleable. He can be taught and he can improve – something which cannot necessarily be said of Lovren and Klavan.
If Gomez does end up moving inside there is a question over who will fill in at right-back until Clyne is fit to return to the side – it’s almost robbing Peter to pay Paul. But here’s the way to make it work. James Milner, who did a solid job on the whole at left-back last season, could drop back to fill it at right-back. Not ideal but he is unlikely to let you down.
And here’s the payoff. That would open up a spot in the centre of midfield for £35million man Oxlade-Chamberlain to play in the position he hoped he would be when he traded Arsenal for Liverpool. He would inject more energy and pace into the midfield and that is needed while Barcelona transfer target Philippe Coutinho is filling in up front.
But, before we get too carried away, it’s worth remembering this is a recurring problem; not something which has been sprung on Klopp.