Football

Neil Humphreys: Blame Liverpool players, not Klopp

Stats prove that German's tactics not the reason for defensive failings

QUALIFYING PLAY-OFF, 1ST LEG
HOFFENHEIM LIVERPOOL

Fans are fickle, pundits are predictable and the clock is always ticking.

Juergen Klopp knows this. Even if he didn't, he certainly does now.

Just one game into the new season, the Liverpool manager finds himself with a faint target on his back.

He's no longer the "Second Coming", apparently, but a weak coach incapable of fixing defensive failings left behind by Brendan Rodgers.

The sack race hasn't yet begun, but the starter's pistol will certainly be held aloft if the Reds lose to Hoffenheim in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

But the German isn't so much Keystone Klopp as he is Confused Klopp, unable to quite work out why his tactical charges won't do as they're told.

He shouldn't be held responsible for their defensive cock-ups, not yet anyway.

Liverpool's inability to defend set-pieces is down to individual faults on the pitch, rather than the fault of the individual in the dugout.

A simple analysis would suggest all that gegenpressing is getting in the way of straightforward defending, with fullbacks abandoning their posts and leaving centre backs exposed.

But what does gegenpressing have to do with defenders failing to pick up markers at corners? It's not a stupid playing system. It's the players, stupid.

For those spinning the anti-Klopp narrative, the inconvenient truth is Liverpool are not conceding more shots to the opposition because of his counterattacking.

The figures 2-2-5-5-4-3-4 are not Philippe Coutinho's wage demands, but the position where Liverpool have sat in the league table - over the last seven seasons - in terms of fewest shots conceded.

Under Klopp, Liverpool's penalty box hasn't turned into pinball mayhem, quite the opposite. In his two seasons, the Reds finished second when it came to fewest shots conceded.

The issue isn't necessarily tactical, but temperamental.

TOO MANY FROM TOO FEW

When an opponent does cultivate a rare opening, Liverpool's jittery centre backs split like bowling pins.

To finish off the numbers game, 42, 50, 48, 50, 43, 40 and 44 are the number of Premier League goals Liverpool have conceded in the last seven years.

Put simply, the Reds concede too many goals from too few chances, an obvious point amplified by those pub-team blunders against Watford.

A couple of corners and some shockingly slack marking were enough for the minnows to score three times. Even Watford defender Miguel Britos admitted that his side specifically targeted their opponents' soft underbelly at set-pieces.

Klopp's tactical approach just cannot legislate for Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren playing as if they'd met on Tinder before kick-off and were struggling through a first date. Lovren floated around the Hornets and stung like a butterfly.

And when Matip gets the wanderlust, he often heads for pastures new beyond his box.

Klopp must shoulder some of the blame of course. Since his arrival, no EPL club have conceded more goals from set-pieces than Liverpool's humbling tally of 27.

The Champions League won't offer any respite either, considering Hoffenheim scored 16 times in the Bundesliga from dead-ball situations last season, a figure matched only by Bayern Munich.

Zonal marking continues to polarise opinion, particularly when it comes to Liverpool, but losing an opponent in the six-yard box says more about the defender's psyche than any particular system.

Klopp's gegenpressing actually concedes fewer shots on Simon Mignolet's goal - not more - but his centre backs are guilty of more leaks than the White House.

He doesn't have the men for the job, not if the job involves a serious assault on domestic and European silverware.

Against Watford, Jordan Henderson and the peripheral Georginio Wijnaldum showed that their qualities differ from those of Nemanja Matic or N'Golo Kante; the archetypal, modern midfielders usually required in today's popular, counter-pressing insurgencies.

Klopp's interest in Virgil van Dijk has been highlighted ad nauseam. What's been less publicised is his eagerness to sign a central midfielder.

He urgently needs a new signing to sit in front of his fragile back four, rather than to replace Coutinho.

If the Brazilian is determined to hang on to his Barcelona dream, then Liverpool should take the money and run to the nearest available centre back and holding midfielder.

They'll just about get by without one creative individual up front.

But too many individual errors at the back will kill off the Reds' season before it's begun.

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