LONDON – Despite being only five points behind joint-leaders Manchester City and Manchester United, Jürgen Klopp knows that Liverpool will not win the Premier League title. If Liverpool is some way behind the Manchester duo plus Chelsea in terms of defensive quality if not points, it has been lapped by the cream of Europe who will contest the Champions League.
Realistically, Liverpool — like most Premier League clubs — started the season with two winnable targets: the League Cup and the F.A. Cup. Klopp was not the only manager to select what amounted to a second XI in the League Cup third-round match against Leicester City on Tuesday, which Liverpool lost 2-0, but the Reds’ strength (weakness?) in depth was exposed yet again when it became the only team of last season’s top seven to exit the competition. And then there was one, but the F.A. Cup, which Liverpool’s season effectively hinges on, does not kick into action until January.
Liverpool is a club expected to be challenging for major honors not making up the numbers, yet in the two years Klopp has been in charge the team has not improved and the 16 goals conceded in nine games in all competitions this season underlines, not that it needed underlining, the problem the German has failed to correct. The defense is broke and it needed fixing. Klopp has had four transfer windows to plug the holes in a leaky back four, but has preferred to buy forwards.
The Reds’ attacking play can be exciting and expansive though wasteful and not clinical enough, but it is at the back that the same old familiar failings are costing Liverpool dearly. It is not just the personnel — though Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klaven are lightweight defenders — it is the organization, especially from set pieces.
After the Leicester defeat Klopp said: “They scored too easily. I am sick of goals like this.” He is the coach and teaching his team how to defend set pieces is part of his job.
Klopp took Liverpool into the Champions League and last season’s fourth-place finish gave hopes of progress. However, unless things improve, and there is little reason for optimism as the same players continue to make the same mistakes, the social media murmurs about the manager will grow louder. Klopp is not under pressure yet and the German retains the backing of the owners, the Fenway Sports Group, but his charismatic personality can only carry him so far.
Liverpool spent the summer trying and failing to sign Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk. It needs three new defenders plus a top goalkeeper to compete at the highest level yet Klopp puts his trust in the usual suspects who are clearly not good enough, while Liverpool’s rivals added to defenses that were already better than the Merseysiders’ backline.
City signed Kyle Walker (Spurs), Danilo (Real Madrid) and Benjamin Mendy (Monaco) for a combined £125 million. United brought in Sweden international Victor Lindeloef from Benfica for a potential £40 million. Chelsea signed Roma’s Antonio Ruediger and Torino’s Davide Zappacosta for £51 million, with Tottenham breaking its transfer record for Ajax’s £42 million Davison Sanchez. Liverpool paid relegated Hull £8 million for fullback Andrew Robertson, who has started one Premier League match this season.
The £40 million signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was not a regular at Arsenal, produced collective head-scratching among Liverpool supporters. When all the midfielders are fit and available, Klopp wil have Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Mohamed Salah and Georginio Wijnaldum, plus the Ox to choose from. The Arsenal substitute seems destined for a similar role at Anfield.
Liverpool returns to Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday with its first XI looking for its first shutout in five games. The good news, one Liverpool fan tweeted,, is that Lovren is injured.
Crystal Palace struggling
While local newspapers are not cheerleaders for the teams they cover, unlike nationals they have more of a duty to be supportive in times of hardship. Crystal Palace is certainly in dire straits, having lost its opening five Premier League matches without scoring a goal and sacking manager Frank deBoer after the first four losses. The Eagles became the first team in English top-flight history — dating back to 1888 — to start a season with no points and no goals.
But the Croydon Advertiser found a positive spin to put on Palace’s plight when it pointed out things could be worse because the no-goals run is not as bad as Halifax Town’s in 1990-91 when it didn’t score in any of its opening eight league matches in the old Fourth Division.
So statistically Palace is not as poor (yet?) as a team three divisions lower was 27 years ago.
It is unlikely this will be of any comfort to Roy Hodgson as he prepares for his second league match in charge on Saturday away to Manchester City, which is averaging three goals a game, not least because after playing the leader Palace’s next two opponents are second-place Manchester United, third-placed Chelsea and Newcastle United, which is fourth. Halifax Town’s record is in jeopardy from the low flying Eagles.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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