Are Liverpool’s defensive woes due to individual errors or collective failure?

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Jurgen Klopp blamed individual errors for Liverpool’s defensive mishap at the weekend, but are the Reds’ woes instead due to a collective failure?

After taking the lead through a Philippe Coutinho stunner, Liverpool succumbed to a 1-1 draw at Newcastle as a straightforward pass from Jonjo Shelvey cut through the visitors’ defence and allowed Joselu to score – albeit via a handy slice of luck.

It was a familiar story for Liverpool, whose defence has come in for plenty of criticism during Klopp’s tenure in charge. But the manager suggested it was merely one error rather than a systematic problem.

“As you can imagine, it is not the nicest moment. We create and create and we made one mistake – a real mistake – and we got punished for it,” he told Sky Sports.

Earlier this season, however, former Liverpool hero Jamie Carragher suggested the problem is much more deep-rooted than simply pointing to one or two players.

After Jamie Redknapp claimed Virgil Van Dijk would solve the Merseysiders’ defensive issues following the 2-2 draw at Watford, Carragher insisted: “The way Liverpool are set up – set piece wise – they will always concede goals. No matter which defenders they buy or how much they cost – it won’t make a difference.”

He added: “If Van Dijk was playing instead of Lovren or Matip – he would have been in one of their positions. It comes down to the manager.”

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Watch: Jamie Carragher and Jamie Redknapp in heated debate on Liverpool defending

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Using stats can be slightly misleading when it comes to recording errors from defenders as they are unable to take into account such instances as players being out of position – as Lovren and Matip were at St James’ Park. Instead, Opta’s definition focuses on “a mistake made by a player losing the ball that leads to a shot or a goal”.

Using this perimeter, Liverpool are yet to make an error leading to a goal in the Premier League this season, and have only twice made errors which have led to an opposition player taking a shot.

They did, however, struggle in this regard last season, making 10 errors which led to goals. Only West Ham, with 12, made more. Likewise, Klopp’s men made 20 errors which led to shots – only four teams made more.

It was a similar story in 2015-16, when Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers in October. Liverpool ranked third in the Premier League for errors which led to goals, and second for errors which led to shots.

Even when using Opta’s perhaps limited definition of defensive errors, it becomes apparent that they have indeed been a recurring issue under Klopp’s management.


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The biggest worry for Liverpool, however, is the quality of chance they are offering to the opposition. The Reds are among the best teams in the division at restricting the number of attempts on their own goal, but when they do concede a shot on goal, there is an alarmingly high number of shots on target.

As noted by James Yorke in an excellent column for investobet.com: “Over 50% of Liverpool’s opponents shots have hit the target so far this season, a clear league-high and an obviously bad trend to recur.

“In addition, 20% of their shots allowed have become goals, around double any long-term expectation and around six times the rate of Burnley. Liverpool have allowed 12 goals to Burnley’s five yet allowed only about 40% of the shots.”

This could perhaps be attributed to Klopp’s style of play. Liverpool’s high pressing game is effective in penning the opposition into their own half, but when teams manage to work the ball beyond that pressure, the defence is suddenly exposed.


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