Will Liverpool's Defense Keep Them From Winning the Premier League Title?
The three-way tie at the top of the Premier League table has been somewhat surprising. Manchester City have shown some flaws, but they still look to be the best all-around side. Arsenal has excelled in their opening 10 games to also get 23 points, and it looks like the Gunners may be able to make a proper run for the title.
And then there is Liverpool.
Anfield has been full of hope since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, and after two tournament final appearances last year. It was reasonable to expect the Reds to challenge for the title, but the lack of consistency last year also made it hard to imagine they could go the distance.
The primary cause of concern was the defense. It was abhorrent at times last year, and despite small improvements and additions over the summer -- like central defender Joel Matip -- it still didn't seem rock solid. And, despite winning seven of their first 10 games, it's not like the defense has been massively improved.
The only clean sheet of the season came in a 0-0 draw against Manchester United, and for a team that's looking to race for the title, that's not exactly encouraging. Liverpool have only allowed more than one goal on three occasions, and they've won two of those matches, but that doesn't mean it's still not a problem.
Dejan Lovren has been mistake-prone since moving to Anfield, but he's slowly cutting back on those and adding goals and noteworthy performances when the Reds need them. Matip has adjusted to the Premier League relatively well, but he can probably still improve.
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Considering all the jokes about Alberto Moreno and the lack of serviceable depth in defense, the fullback situation has turned out decently well. Nathaniel Clyne continues to provide reliable performances, and James Milner has been fine, although it's hard not to think that he could play up to his limit and more comfortably in the center of the pitch, his natural position.
The Reds' blistering attack has scored 24 goals this season, tied with City for most in the league. Klopp obviously isn't hoping to just outscore opponents, but it is currently working and Liverpool haven't been this entertaining in years. However, their will be inevitable streaks and games where it doesn't click in the final third, which means that Matip, Lovren and company still have to maintain some type of form.
But the attack actually plays an important role in Liverpool's defensive efforts. The individual performances of the backline may lack consistency, but the execution of Klopp's press makes up for it. The constant pressure that Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho provide -- along with the midfielders like Jordan Henderson and Emre Can orchestrating possession -- has been the primary cause for their success.
Let's use Liverpool's fourth goal, which sealed the win against Crystal Palace this past weekend, as an example. Palace, thanks to two James McArthur goals, was only down one goal and were actively looking for a 3-3 tie. In the past, Liverpool would sit back and hope to deal with the pressure. Instead, thanks to their press, they were able to create a goal in seconds after winning the ball back.
Firmino's goal ðŸ”¥ pic.twitter.com/8wTe946nzF
â€” ã…¤ (@DeadIyFirmino) October 30, 2016
Henderson receives the ball quickly after the Reds win back possession, and Crystal Palace's search for an equalizer sees their defensive line pushed up. The idea is nice, but Firmino was stuck to the backline, constantly pressuring them and then waiting for an opportune moment, which Henderson provides.
Firmino, keeping with his good form, calmly chips, and Liverpool seal a win thanks to tactical execution and understanding. Scoring these types of goals and dealing with tricky teams like Palace are exactly what champions do.
And that's why Liverpool and their "defense" legitimately have a chance. The way they play can put their backline on the back foot on occasion, but they cause so many mistakes and make their opponents so uncomfortable that they are often a frustrating and difficult team to beat.
Whether Liverpool can keep their defensive mistakes to a minimum, which is one of the main reasons the Eagles were even in the game above, remains to be seen, but they have undoubtedly bought into Klopp's system. It is resulting in goals, and their defensive scheme uses a relentless work rate to cover up the side's flaws.