Sports

Jurgen Klopp’s solution to Liverpool defensive concern is now crystal clear


When Liverpool fell to a 3-2 defeat at West Ham United prior to the most recent international break it followed a concerning trend.

It was the sixth match of the campaign in which Jurgen Klopp’s side had conceded two goals or more with Milan, Brentford, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and Brighton all finding joy against the Reds.

The familiar pattern was one where Liverpool did not enjoy their usual level of control over opposition teams with a notable lack of midfield protection for the back four, meaning that the defence was often overloaded.

In the six matches since the loss in East London, Klopp’s side have conceded just two goals and appear to have put their early defensive concerns behind them.

Aside from conceding one goal in their 4-1 Merseyside Derby victory, Liverpool have a perfect defensive record in the Premier League games since with clean sheets against Arsenal, Southampton and Wolves.

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It is no coincidence that this run of form has coincided with Thiago Alcantara’s return to selection for Klopp’s side.

The Spain international has been included from the start in each of those four matches and the Reds have conceded just one goal in the six Premier League games in which Thiago has been in the XI.

Conversely, in the nine matches in which the 30-year-old has not started, Klopp’s side have conceded 11 times.

It is not that Thiago is a traditional defensive midfielder who goes into crunching challenges or continually shields the front four.

Instead, it is the Spaniard’s positional sense and technical attributes in possession that allow Liverpool’s midfield to retain its shape and assert its authority against opposition sides.

Thiago’s presence ensures that the Reds can maintain their attacks through recirculation of the ball, allowing Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to hold position while he finds space to collect possession and prevent space for counterattacks.

It is not only defensive numbers that have enjoyed an upturn since Thiago’s return to selection.

He netted one of the goals of the season so far with his ‘thunderball’ effort against Porto in the Champions League, and found himself on the scoresheet again against Southampton with another effort from the edge of the box.

Thiago’s time at Anfield so far has been blighted by injury and he’s struggled to get a lengthy run of games to demonstrate his best form.

Yet there is little doubt that Thiago is one of the most technically gifted players and positionally aware midfielders in football, despite the fitness setbacks that have frustrated him throughout this career.

After an early-season injury to Harvey Elliott and a rotation process between James Milner, Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the final spot in the Reds midfield trio alongside Fabinho and Henderson, Thiago has now nailed down his place.

It is now time for him to do just that to leave a legacy at the club and continue his remarkable career that enjoyed huge successes previously at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.





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