LONDON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Any effort to reduce Liverpool’s defensive woes this season to statistics would make grim reading for manager Juergen Klopp.
Twenty goals conceded in all competitions at a rate of 1.7 goals per game; only two clean sheets in 12 matches and none since August; two or more goals conceded in a game six times and the joint third-worst defensive record in the Premier League so far.
Given the weight of evidence, most pundits have concluded that Liverpool’s inconsistent start to the campaign has its root cause in a leaky defence.
And with unbeaten Manchester United, who have won six of their opening seven matches, visiting Anfield on Saturday, things could yet get worse.
The majority of criticism aimed in Liverpool’s direction has fallen on their centre backs, where resources have been stretched.
Klopp tried to address this with an unsuccessful attempt to prise Netherlands international Virgil van Dijk away from Southampton in the close-season.
Yet having failed to land the Dutchman, and with seemingly no plan B, he started the campaign with just Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan as established centre backs competing for the two places on offer.
All three have faced criticism from fans and pundits, although Nick Tanner, who formed part of Liverpool’s squad the last time they won the league, in 1990, said there was hope yet for the first-choice pairing.
“I’ll stand up for Lovren and Matip,” he told The Times. “Central defending is all about partnerships. When they have played together, goals conceded per game 0.9 and when they haven’t 1.4.”
Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation has also been far from settled.
Belgium international Simon Mignolet has been the established first choice, but made the fewest saves of any goalkeeper in the Premier League last season and has conceded 15 goals in his eight appearances this campaign at a rate of 1.9 per game.
Klopp appears still to be unsure of his number one and has been rotating Mignolet and Loris Karius, with the Belgian playing in the league and the German in Europe, yet neither has made the position their own.
Fullback is another area where Liverpool have been unsettled.
Nathaniel Clyne has missed the whole season so far with a back injury, which has left Klopp dependant at right back on 20-year-old Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has only just turned 19.
On the other side, Alberto Moreno continues to be favoured, even though his forays forward often leave the two centre backs exposed.
Klopp has maintained that many of Liverpool’s issues can be resolved on the training pitch and not just in the transfer market.
Yet like the Newcastle United side of Kevin Keegan that failed to win the league in the 1990s, the German has faced criticism for developing an unbalanced team that focuses too heavily on attack.
Former Liverpool defender Phil Babb this week accused Klopp of failing to strengthen in defence.
“The recruitment in those areas - I don’t think he (Klopp) has done enough,” the former Ireland international said.
Many Liverpool fans might agree with that assessment should Jose Mourinho’s United open up a 10-point advantage over their rivals with victory at Anfield. (Reporting by Matt Westby; Editing by Toby Davis)