Connect in the back of the net

Liverpool FC’s first taste of Champion’s League football in three years is a bittersweet one.

The Reds are taking two crucial away goals back to Anfield after their first leg victory against 1899 Hoffenheim in the qualifiers.

Despite a 2-1 win and great play from the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mané and Mohammed Salah, Liverpool are still in hot water.

The clash against the Bundesliga side showcased Jurgen Klopp’s repertoire of defensive issues. The core of those issues was – unsurprisingly – Dejan Lovren.

 

Croatian catastrophe

The Number Six began his slippery slope by making desperate scrambling attempts in the box to unsuccessfully clear threatening balls.

He looked panicked and lost for the majority of the game – definitely not the quality you’d expect from a Premier League footballer.

Lovren was also the reason Liverpool conceded the early penalty. There’s dispute whether the penalty should have been awarded or not but that doesn’t change Lovren’s woeful attempt at 1v1 defending.

The awful defending didn’t stop there either. Lethargic Lovren failed to do his duty as center-back on numerous occasions. And teaming up with an average Joel Matip, Hoffenheim found it all too easy to trickle between Liverpool’s defense.

Lovren wasn’t entirely terrible, though. He narrowly missed the goal from two powerful headers which would have put Liverpool well out of reach.

Almost isn’t an achievement though, and neither is below average defending. Something needs to be done.

 

Addressing the defensive flaws

Liverpool are going to face a a very painful campaign if they don’t sign at least one new defender.

Virgil van Dijk is practically begging to join the Merseyside club but with FSG not willing to buy and Southampton not willing to sell, it looks like the end of the road for the Dutchman’s Anfield debut dream.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t sign someone. The Reds’ abysmal defense will only worsen as the season progresses.

With a morbid 3-3 result to kick start the season, it’s frightening to imagine how we’ll hold up against teams with an excellent strike force. If Watford can manage to net three past us, the likes of Tottenham’s powerful trio will have an absolute field day.

No convincing transfer links have surfaced either. Klopp swears blind he is still on the hunt for new fullbacks, but it’s not looking promising. LFC need a complete defensive makeover.

With 18-year-old Alexander-Arnold the only one to be on form, it’s simply not good enough. Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno should have been out of the clubs months ago with their replacements already settling into the first team.

But Moreno’s replacement Andy Robertson is nowhere to be seen. The former Hull left-back has been left out of both of this campaign’s fixtures so far.

Klopp claims Robertson still needs time to gel; but time isn’t something we have a great deal of.

 

Karius or Ward?

After Loris Karius was introduced as Liverpool’s new Number 1 (literally) Mignolet faced a while on the bench.

Luckily for the Belgian, Karius couldn’t find his feet – or his hands – as the first choice goalkeeper and Migs was given a second chance. That’s all he needed, too.

Mignolet’s form has been better than ever – some hiccups still occur but he seems energised, confident and determined 90% of the time.

The superstar who made a huge name for himself last season with Huddersfield Town has also returned. Danny Ward is back in the squad and played against Atletico Madrid in the Audi Cup final.

Despite a tough penalty shootout, his goalkeeping throughout the game was divine. He pulled save after save out of the bag and looked confident and threatening.

So, Karius? What’s in store for him now Ward is back on the scene and Mignolet has regained his form?

The man who was supposed to solve all of our goalkeeping issues has done less than impress. Is it worth selling the German pretty boy after only one season at Anfield?

I would vote yes. Because the only thing he’s been warming up recently is his spot on the bench.

 

Captain not-so-Fantastic

Skipper Jordan Henderson has returned from his grueling injury with a bang! Is what I would love to be able to say.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Geordie has been a problematic part of our midfield for a very long time now – even before his unfortunate injury last season.

His presence goes unnoticed a lot of the time, with exception for the odd decent through ball or clearance. I have never truly warmed to him as Liverpool’s captain but I gave him time to prove himself.

He never really did. His memorable clash with Diego Costa is one of the only exciting things that led up to his captaincy.

I’m fond of Henderson, but the team seem to perform exactly the same with or without him in the squad. His change of position may be a large contributing factor to his poor performances as of late, but as a skipper he should be comfortable in almost any position on the pitch.

Steven Gerrard played a massive all round role – pressing and scoring goals, making important passes from midfield and clearing danger from the box. This kind of versatility is something you need in a good captain.

It was also Gerrard who convinced Luis Suarez to give LFC one more year before he packed his bags for Barcelona. That final year ended up being the Reds’ most successful Premier League campaign to date. Jordan Henderson however doesn’t seem to have this particular skill or desire.

The latest talks on Philippe Coutinho’s controversial Barca link has included captain Hendo stating there is nothing he can do to convince the Brazilian to stay.

“It’s a difficult situation for Phil and whatever I say won’t help matters. […] I don’t think I can influence the situation. That’s down to Phil and the club”.Sky Sports

Whether it’s just Coutinho’s stubbornness to get out as quickly as possible we can’t be sure.

But on the surface it looks to me like Henderson doesn’t want to push anything on his teammate. Which can be understood but as man in charge he is expected to try and keep key players in our grasp, even if it’s only for another season.

It will be a long, long time before someone will measure up to Gerrard, but I know someone who isn’t too far off.

 

Milner for captain

James Milner is one of our most important players. As a senior footballer his knowledge and experience of the game is crucial in a team of younger players. His leadership seems to come naturally to him.

His ability to switch to a left-back role with no prior warning was remarkable. As a midfielder by trade, he did a great job filling in the gaping hole we had (and still have) in our defense.

Versatility is key in a captain and nobody can argue that Milner has it. His penalty taking accuracy and ability to put defenders under pressure are hard to ignore.

His passion for the game and his club is another vital asset and although he may not be the fittest out there, that doesn’t stop him from challenging defenders and scoring beautiful goals like his Hoffenheim wonder strike.

I think Henderson should pass the armband down to Milner and accept that he is the better leader of the two. Maybe Hendo will regain his footballing form in due time, but leadership can’t be taught.

 

Now, for the pros!

It may seem like all I’ve done is whine – which is partially true – but let’s end on a high, shall we? I think it’s more than fair to say that our attacking forward is close to the best in the league.

Mané and Salah are a football fan’s dream, and a defenders worst nightmare. They’re as perfect as every Kopite dreamed they would be. They caused absolute havoc for Watford and every pre-season game they played together.

We are so, so lucky to have two amazing wingers on the side of our new striker and penalty taker Roberto Firmino.

Bobby has really flourished at Liverpool since his shaky start in his Number 11 shirt. But it’s like the legacy of the Number 9 jersey has unlocked the talent and power within him.

The Brazilian with the bleached pearly whites is faster, stronger and dishing out more filthy footwork than ever. Teamed up with a fit Daniel Sturridge or even Dominic Solanke, we will be unstoppable.

Speaking of the new boy: what a signing! The former Chelsea man has stormed his first pre-season with Liverpool and has already won the hearts of the fans.

His success with the U20 England team clearly wasn’t just a one season wonder. The frontman is a fantastic backup for Firmino and I’d love to see him make the starting XI soon. God knows he’s already earned it.

 

Let’s talk transfers…

With Phil more than likely well and truly out the door, it’s time to ramp up the transfer links. Not that they were red hot to start with, but hey.

An unconfirmed link with PSG’s Julian Draxler has been circulating social media. The Ligue 1 treasure would be an extreme signing for Liverpool and would make the Coutinho loss and lot easier to bear.

Klopp is coping for now in the absence of the little magician, but how long will the luck last? A huge hole will be left if and when Coutinho leaves and a replacement is essential.

Let’s hope Klopp will hear our prayers and work his magic on the fellow German winger. With only weeks to go until the window closes, it’s getting too much to bear at the thought of Salah being our only major signing this year.

 

Written by Georgia Goulding

Follow Georgia on Twitter @gjgoulding

Check out her excellent football blog: Football, Findings and Fiction

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