Had our defenders really been that bad?

The Liverpool defence is a funny thing. Depending on who you talk to it is either a 'clown car', as one Spurs supporting historian keeps calling it, or a juggernaut that's slowly building momentum. Many of us are still undecided because it's difficult to get an objective assessment of our back line. That's why when I saw a table of statistics regarding our centre backs, published just before we played Everton, I kept hold of it. It makes interesting reading:

Firstly, the glaring statistic is how few errors by the defence have actually led to goals. We seem to have this impression that in the early part of the season our defenders were giving goals away left, right and centre but it would appear this was not the case. I realise a bit of leeway must be given to the term 'errors leading to goals' as we may all have slightly different interpretations of what that actually means but even if you add a couple more goals to these statistics they're still surprisingly low.

Secondly, it's clear the different defenders have different strengths. Unsurprisingly, 'Big Virgil' has won an impressive 108 aerial battles but look who it is with the highest tackle success - Klavan with 78%. Common wisdom would have you believe that he can't kick a ball but, again, surprisingly his statistics show that in certain areas of play he has been impressive. In fact, Klavan has a goals per game ratio of 0.87 whereas van Dijk has a ratio of 1.25 (although, admittedly, some of those were at Southampton). Lovren and van Dijk have made an almost identical number of clearances - this is the 'headless chicken' Lovren we're talking about - and both Lovren and Matip have played nearly an identical number of games that have ended with clean sheets, twice the number of games that van Dijk has.

So, what's my point? Well, there's no doubt the Liverpool defence has had some calamitous moments this season but they have been exactly that - moments, not the norm. I think these moments have unfairly coloured our overall opinions of our defenders because if we use van Dijk as the yardstick for the type of defender we want the other defenders don't do as bady in comparison as you'd expect, and, ironically, it can be argued Lovren has better overall statistics than van Dijk. When Klopp was saying our defence isn't as bad as everyone thinks it is, and we all scoffed, but the problem was that the team as a whole wasn't defending well enough perhaps we should've trusted his opinion more.

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  • When you look at those statistics it does put a different shine on our defence. There's no doubt it has improved tenfold since VVD came onboard but i'll never be convinced by Klavan and Matip, fair enough, their good backup options buy we need another warrior beside VVD and the nearest we have to that right now is Lovren who has improved a lot but still makes me nervous, the other two terrify me. We need another CB in the mould of VVD to be rock solid at the back, hopefully Klopp has his eye on a player this summer.

  • What's quite alarming is that Matip has only 57 aerial battes won vs Lovren's 90!  Errors leading to goals makes me a bit skeptical because I think Lovren was culpable for at least 3 (Spurs, Everton and Utd although Trent did get rinsed by Rashford) It would be good to see the aerial duels won as a % as somehow when I reflect on games, I see Matip winning more headers than he comes up against then what people think.   Perhaps I'm just thinking about my bias that Matip is better than Lovren.

  • I don't know what Klopp's intentions are regarding centrebacks next season but what I tend to think about this season, with the benefit of hindsight, is that when our defenders have made mistakes they've tended to be rather dramatic so they've stuck in the memory. In actual fact those blunders have been relatively rare and the majority of the time the defence has functioned well, even if we've felt uneasy watching them. The addition of van Dijk has made the defence more assertive and organised so not only arre they defending well they look like they're defending well making them easier watch. There's a difference between how the team have defended and how well we perceive the team has defended and that doesn't always match.

    • Our defending has been alot better and VvD is getting alot of credit but I think Coutinho leaving and not being part of midfield is a big part of that.  He would defend situations but normally further up the field but now with Gini, Can, Hendo and Milner making up two of the midfield or sometimes making up the whole midfield has helped us become alot stronger.  It would be interesting to show our interceptions on a pitch map as I'm almost certain it's more often in midfield and Bobby's 9 and 1/2 role than at the defense.  Our midfield contributing to defense has been a big impact to our improvement.

    • Yes, I think you're right about the midfield. Earlier in the season there were times when the back line was left exposed because the players ahead of them weren't making interceptions, tackles or slowing the rate at which the ball came back at the defence. This often gave the impression the defence was out of position but that was only because they hadn't had time to get into position. With the fullbacks flying forward all the time the centrebacks have a lot of ground to defend which makes them vulnerable if the other players don't defend further up the pitch. Thankfully, this is something that's improved.

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