Liverpool's defence needs an OVERHAUL after humbling Real Madrid loss
Virgil van Dijk has lost his aura, Trent Alexander-Arnold would be dropped if he had competition and Joe Gomez is too inconsistent to be reliable… why it isn’t JUST Liverpool’s midfield Jurgen Klopp needs to overhaul this summer
- Liverpool were thrashed 5-2 by Real Madrid on Tuesday night at Anfield
- Liverpool are set to strengthen their midfield in the summer transfer window
- Their defence also requires numerous reinforcements after their latest setback
After 15 minutes at Anfield on Tuesday night, it looked like Liverpool had finally got their act together.
Coming off the back of successive 2-0 wins against Everton and Newcastle, the Reds raced into a two-goal lead in their last-16 Champions League tie with Real Madrid. Jurgen Klopp’s men were playing with the intensity that has made them such a formidable side in recent years, and the visitors could hardly get out of their own half.
Then it all came crashing down. Two goals from Vinicius Jr, the first a piece of individual brilliance, the second a calamitous moment for Alisson, and Liverpool had been pegged back.
What happened in the second half was then deeply concerning for Liverpool fans. Anfield watched on in disbelief as the home side were ripped to shreds, conceding three goals to effectively put the tie to bed with the return leg at Santiago Bernabeu still to come.
Liverpool’s midfield has been questioned all season, and an overhaul of this area of the team is widely expected in the summer, with Jude Bellingham and Matheus Nunes both linked with moves to Merseyside.
Jurgen Klopp watched his Liverpool side concede five goals after racing into a two-goal lead
But what about the defence?
Having been a strength of Liverpool’s for so long, it now looks to be increasingly fragile, and the side’s shortcomings at the back were badly exposed by Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Sportsmail takes a look at Liverpool’s defensive issues, and whether this is also a problem that needs to be addressed in the next transfer window.
No competition for Alexander-Arnold
From an attacking perspective, Trent Alexander-Arnold remains one of the best right backs in Europe. But when it comes to the defensive side of the game, he has been found wanting time and time again this season.
It always looked like being a key battle between him and Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian winger won it handsomely.
Alexander-Arnold should not shoulder all of the blame. It was hardly his fault that Alisson kicked the ball against Vinicius’ shin to hand Madrid the cheapest of goals.
The England international also received very little help from Liverpool’s midfield or Mohamed Salah down his side of the pitch as he was constantly left in a one-on-one situation with Vinicius.
Yet he also didn’t help himself by charging forward at every given opportunity to leave Vinicius in all kinds of space for Madrid’s counter-attacks.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form has dipped this season, and he struggled badly with Vinicius Jr
He stayed on the pitch for the full game, but if Liverpool had a suitable replacement that surely wouldn’t have been the case. And therein lies the problem. There is no one to challenge Alexander-Arnold for his position.
Calvin Ramsay was signed last summer to try and provide some competition, but has been injured for most of the campaign and is now expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery.
This then leaves a 37-year-old James Milner, who is far more comfortable in midfield. Would he have fared any better against Vinicius?
Alexander-Arnold has been a huge part of Liverpool’s success over the last five years, but he needs someone to push him and he doesn’t have that right now. The Reds should be seriously considering bringing in another right back this summer to give Klopp the option of dropping Alexander-Arnold if the keeps delivering sub-standard performances.
Van Dijk has lost his aura
There was a time when strikers would not even bother trying to take on Virgil van Dijk if they were left one-on-one with the Dutchman. Those days appear to be long gone.
It would be harsh to be too critical of Van Dijk given that he has only just returned from a six-week layoff with a hamstring problem.
It was also mightily impressive that he performed so well last season after coming back from a serious knee injury that ruined his 2020-21 campaign.
But he has not looked the same player this term. He has been tentative with his defending far too often in recent months, backing off rather than making a tackle, and opponents have punished him.
Strikers are no longer scared to run at Virgil van Dijk since he returned from injury
Keeping Karim Benzema at bay on Tuesday was always going to be difficult, and he failed miserably.
Jamie Carragher joked afterwards that he may get into the current Liverpool team ahead of Van Dijk.
It was obviously a tongue-in-cheek comment, but Van Dijk’s form has been worrying for an extended period now, and when Liverpool needed him to step up in one of their biggest games of the season he had no answer to Madrid’s frontline.
Once regarded as the best centre-back on the planet, he has fallen some way below that standard now, and strikers fancy their chances against him.
Who should partner Van Dijk?
Joe Gomez was given a two out of 10 for his performance against Madrid by L’Equipe and he can have no complaints.
He did not get close enough to Vinicius for Madrid’s opening goal, and then committed a needless foul on the same player to give away a free-kick in the build-up to Madrid’s third. His night was summed up when he deflected Benzema’s effort past Alisson to make it 4-2, and he was brought off in the second half with an apparent hamstring issue.
Gomez was a mainstay in Liverpool’s defence in their 2019-20 title-winning campaign, but he has had two serious knee injuries and an ankle problem in his career and these setbacks seem to be catching up with him.
He has produced performances that offer hope that he can return to his best form, most notably in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in October, but for every good game that he has, he will then have two or three bad ones.
Klopp can hardly look at his bench and see an obvious alternative at the moment, though.
Joe Gomez had a night to forget as he was unable to cope with Real Madrid’s frontline
Liverpool centre back Joel Matip has looked a shadow of his former self this season, too
Joel Matip replaced Gomez on Tuesday, but his form has nosedived this season. When Van Dijk was injured, Matip and Gomez played together and had a disastrous afternoon in Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Wolves earlier this month.
At 31, Matip should be able to take on the responsibility of leading the defence when Van Dijk is absent, but he badly failed his audition at Molineux.
Klopp’s best option to partner Van Dijk is Ibrahima Konate. That was the duo he went with in Liverpool’s previous meeting with Real Madrid at last year’s Champions League final.
But he didn’t have that choice this time around as Konate is currently sidelined due to injury, and staying fit has been a problem for the Frenchman throughout the season.
In truth, Konate’s injury record before he even joined Liverpool was not a good one, but the Reds got lucky with him last term.
They have had no such fortune this season, meaning that Klopp has had to regularly change his centre-back pairing, and none of the combinations he has tried have looked convincing.
Andy Robertson has blown hot and cold at times this season, but when compared with his peers he is the least of Liverpool’s problems at the back.
While Gomez and Alexander-Arnold endured torrid evenings on Tuesday, Robertson delivered a solid performance, and produced one outstanding interception to prevent Rodrygo from scoring an almost-certain goal at the end of the first half.
There is an argument that Robertson is not the force he was a couple of years ago, when he and Alexander-Arnold were widely regarded as the best full-backs in Europe, but he is still one of the team’s better performers.
Andy Robertson has not been at his best, but is the least of Liverpool’s problems at the back
The 28-year-old is one of the only players in the current Liverpool squad that is at their peak, and Klopp can also call upon Kostas Tsimikas to provide cover for the Scot.
Tsimikas, who netted the winning penalty in last year’s FA Cup final shootout against Chelsea, is popular with the Liverpool fanbase and has shown in the last couple of years that he is an adequate understudy.
With this in mind, left back is perhaps the one position in the backline that doesn’t need to be upgraded in the off-season.
Who could Liverpool sign to strengthen their defence?
Coming into this season, most fans would have said that Liverpool were well-stacked at centre back with four solid options, but that is no longer the case and they badly need a fresh face through the door.
RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol, who scored against Man City on Wednesday, could be the answer.
The 21-year-old looks to have a huge future ahead of him after playing a key role in Croatia’s run to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup, and it looks likely that he will get a big-money move this summer.
He revealed in January that Liverpool is his ‘dream club’ and that he followed them closely from back home in Croatia when he was growing up.
Liverpool could try and use this to their advantage by luring him to Anfield in the coming months, although they could face competition from Chelsea who almost signed Gvardiol last summer.
Liverpool could look to sign Josko Gvardiol this summer, but may need more reinforcements to fix their defensive issues
Yet other than that, Liverpool seem to have been overlooking their defence to focus on strengthening their midfield. After Tuesday night’s display, that needs to change.
Adding some more energy in the middle of the park will be important to offer the back four more protection, but the defence itself also needs reinforcements.
Liverpool have already conceded two more league goals this term than they did last season, and they still have 16 games left to play. That can’t be entirely down to a lack of intensity in the midfield: the defence must also take their share of the blame.
A rebuild is required at Anfield this summer. Liverpool’s latest setback may have highlighted to Klopp that it will be an even bigger job that he initially anticipated.
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