This Saturday’s game at Anfield has a few undercurrents attached to it before the whistle even blows. There’s the ongoing fragility of the home defence, which is currently making errors too embarrassing to be called “schoolboy”. There’s also the fact that the visiting Huddersfield, fresh from a win over Manchester United, could leapfrog Liverpool with a win-- so there’s their teamtalk sorted. Then, most notably of all, is the first managerial meeting of Klopp and his former apprentice David Wagner.
Yes, it’s not just beards, a friendly manner, and a high-pressing style football that the two managers share. Wagner’s last job before moving to Huddersfield was as the reserve team coach at Borussia Dortmund, a job to which he was appointed by Klopp, at whose wedding he served as best man. So it’s fair to say there’s a history between the managers this weekend.
Before the season started, the Huddersfield match would have looked like a home banker. Now? Well, there are some questions over that. Far from mounting a title challenge, Liverpool are now 5/1 just to qualify for the Champions League with Betfred, who feature on Casinomir - and those odds are getting longer with every dropped point. They may be mates, but Klopp can’t hand Wagner any gifts on Saturday.
The Form Book Never Lies
Liverpool come into this game in poor form. Their only win in the league since August came away at Leicester, who’ve been so bad that it barely counts. A clean sheet was secured against Manchester United, which sounds good until you remember that they defended so deeply Romelu Lukaku was less a lone striker and more a hostage.
The Terriers, enthused by a win over Mourinho’s men last time out, are performing steadily if not spectacularly, and won’t shy away from attacking. Klopp’s men need a vastly improved performance, specifically in defence, to be in any way confident of victory this weekend.
The Case For The Defence
Many questions have been raised over the Reds’ recent defensive performances. Do they need an N’Golo Kante to play in front of the back four and provide security? Are the defenders lacking confidence due to Simon Mignolet’s error-prone play? Is it actually Dejan Lovren in that back four, or three children under a trenchcoat? All those and more are pertinent questions. It’s a particular head-scratcher when you realise Klopp himself played in defence.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the transfer window slammed shut with Virgil van Dijk still a Southampton player. He may yet move in January, but he won’t arrive before this weekend. So whether it’s a tactical tweak or a change of personnel, a solution is needed soon if Klopp isn’t to be relieved of his duties, remembered chiefly as “a nicer Brendan Rodgers”.
Score More Than The Other Side?
Of course, the old line of “we’re going to score one more than you” might be the way to go. When this Liverpool team fires in attack, they’re next to unstoppable. Salah, Firmino and Coutinho all clicked away to Maribor a few weeks back, and the result was a 7-0 attacking masterclass. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starting to show signs of the skill we know he has, it might be that all out attack is the best -- or at least, the most realistic -- form of defence for the moment.