Just over a year ago, on the 21st of November, 2017, a second-half fightback from Sevilla stunned Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium. A breathtaking display of first-half attacking brilliance was undone by some absolutely mindless defending as Liverpool capitulated.
The draw that night in Andalucía had the all the hallmarks of everything that was wrong with Liverpool. Just a few weeks earlier, a 5-1 drubbing at Spurs left many wide-eyed and horrified at the brittle nature of our defence and the hapless goalkeeping. It was a corrosive problem at the heart of the club’s performances which also meant we simply had to be outstanding going forward every week in order to get three points.
An era of half measures and stopgap options was brought to a close in January this year when the club broke a world record transfer fee for a defender. Virgil van Dijk was added and was immediately the colossus that we were crying out for. More than that though, the defensive issues that marred club and fuelled some of our hell for leather attacking displays, were starting to heal. Twelve months on from that frustrating night in Sevilla and the match winners are no longer just at the top end of the pitch. Through a mixture of shrewd investments, stellar signings and great coaching, the club now has a defensive unit to rival anything in Europe.
We’ve just come through two gruelling, horrible fixtures which really demonstrate how much the dynamic has shifted. In both the Everton and Burnley fixtures, the players and coaching staff had to dig very deep into the bedrock of their character to find the wins.
It’s also fair to say that the Liverpool of this time last year could easily have squandered both games and lost valuable ground on our rivals. What should be celebrated a whole lot more from certain sections of the fanbase, isn’t our good fortune, but our resilience at the back to get us through when we’ve been under siege.
At key moments at Anfield and Turf Moor, it was our defensive work which ultimately contributed to us getting the wins. Big moments from our goalkeepers and defenders had been painfully lacking last season, but this new crop at the back really gives us something else.
Yes, the defensive record of just six conceded all season, speaks for itself, but there’s so much more to it than it. From Gomez’s block on the line at Everton, to Alisson’s wonderful save and clever decision making at the death against Burnley, these are moments that good teams must have if they’re to be successful. Simply put, they are moments that win you games.
Alisson, van Dijk, Roberston, Gomez, and Trent – all have been superb so far and represent the kind of players that a club challenging for big honours should have in its possession. Big money has been spent and the improvement is there for all to see.
It’s also meant that the club no longer has to operate at a frenetic and unsustainable pace. Again, there’s been much said about the so-called blips in form from the front three. Some seem almost wilful for them to underperform, such is there criticism and hyperbole. However, it isn’t illogical to see that Klopp has maybe gone back to the drawing board in the summer and tweaked his ethos.
Good managers adapt and change to fix problems. An obvious trend for Liverpool during Klopp’s tenure so far had been the rampant fatigue in the squad come the business end of the season. It hurt us in the second half against Sevilla in the Europa League Final, and was painfully apparent last season, with the players dead on their feet in Kiev. If we cannot compete consistently throughout the season then it’ll impact on our ability to end the trophy drough
The need to score an average of 3-4 goals a game to ensure all three points or progression in the Champions League was there for most of last season even with van Dijk. The likes of Karius, Trent as an apprentice in the side, and Lovren meant there was a fragility at the back. Lovren improved dramatically in the second half of the campaign, but his lapses still popped up from time to time. You were just never quite comfortable in games unless we’d obliterated the opposition at the other end.
A shift this season has seen the defence do some real muscle work to help win us games. This has allowed Liverpool to take maximum points in matches where they haven’t quite been at the top of their attacking play. The lack of tempo has hit us in the Champions League for sure, as the away performances have been awful, but the EPL form has been beautiful. The match winner’s migration to the other end of the pitch has been an interesting and welcome dynamic to this campaign. With Gomez’s injury and the fixtures cascading relentlessly, the pressure will be huge, but that’s what happens when you’re in a title race, long may it continue.