A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a fairly sardonic piece (yeah, I know, it’s a pleonasm as far as I’m concerned) called “The case against the defence”. The general gist of it was our weakness at the back would, ultimately, cost us in the long run.
I ended the piece by writing this: “This is something that can only be solved on the training ground. Thing is, two full years into the job, I’m not sure I trust him (Klopp) to find the answers.”
We are a year down the road and while I’m not sure he has found all the answers, we’re a lot closer to where we need to be. Clearly, our defensive frailties have been improved by hard work at Melwood but especially by the quality of players Klopp has signed and/or brought into the team. I wrote that piece after the first game of last season where Watford – Watford! – had just put three past us.
Our back five that day was Mignolet-Trent-Matip-Lovren-Moreno. It wasn’t so much “We go again” as “Here we go again”! Outstanding attacking football would be worthless as we continued to leak goals.
In his first season we had conceded 40 goals in his first 30 games in charge, an average of 1.33 a game. In his second – full – season, with HIS men, we conceded 42 in 38 games, an average of 1.10 a game, an improvement, but still too many to be genuine title contenders. And now, three against Watford on the first day of the season. Back to our old ways.
Carra and Redknapp got into a bit of a shouting match at half-time that day, Redknapp claiming that Virgil could sort out our problems, while Carra was critical of the way we set up, saying our full-backs bombing forward left us exposed at the back.
So, who was right? Well, they both were! Coaching AND great signings have come together to make us far more solid at the back. It’s probably taken a little longer than we would have wished – imagine if we had signed Virgil before the season started, but look at the back four we’ve got now!
Our first choice back four this season could be Trent-Gomez-Virgil-Andy. We had to pay big money for Virgil but Trent, Gomez and Andy cost £11.5 million between them. VIDIPRINTER ALERT: ELEVEN POINT FIVE MILLION POUNDS. For three players of that quality. That’s astounding in today’s environment!
Our full-backs are so much than defenders, though. Going forward, they are ace too, get crosses in, link up well on either side (Andy with Sadio and Trent with Mo) as well as doing the simple stuff at the back when called upon.
And as much as our full-backs support our frontmen, our frontmen support our full-backs too. The constant harrying and closing down by our front three clearly buys us time to set up at the back. Klopp has added Keita to the mix now, a box-to-box player whose presence should allow Hendo or Milner to concentrate on protecting our back four. You don’t get the feeling we need to score three or four to win these days. Two suffice. Maybe not one – we’re not at GH levels of parsimony yet!
Klopp is 108 League games in to his “reign”. In the first 54, we conceded 70. In the last 54? 50. In those first 54 games, we kept clean 14 sheets. In the last 54? 25. If we keep improving like this, who knows where we might end up…