Why Are Liverpool So Bad At Defending: Are The Reds In For A Tough 2022/23?

For Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool fans, it must be starting to feel a bit like groundhog day. More points dropped at home, more goals conceded first and, most crucially, more ground lost from those at the top of the table. With the Reds drawing 3-3 with Brighton at Anfield, SinkorSwimSports takes a look at why Liverpool are so bad at defending, and whether the side could be in for a tough 2022/23 Premier League campaign. 

2022/23 Liverpool Premier League Record

Played: 7

Won: 2

Drawn: 4

Lost: 1 

Goals For: 18

Goals Against: 9 (+9)

Biggest Win: Liverpool 9-0 Bournemouth (27 August 2022) 

Biggest Loss: Man United 2-1 Liverpool (22 August 2022) 

Position: 9th

Putting Things Into Perspective

In football, fans and pundits live in the moment. But, context is always important when dealing with big macro discussions like these, and Liverpool have more credit than most in the bank when it comes to facing the issues ahead. 

In 2021/22, Liverpool played every single fixture possible in their schedule. With two domestic cups already in their back pocket, the Reds were one win away from a seventh Champions League and mere minutes away from a second Premier League title in three years. 

Winning 16 out of their final 19 games to close the campaign, Liverpool ended the season averaging 2.42 points, 2.47 goals, and just 0.68 goals against every game. 

Fast forward just a handful of months later, and could hardly feel any more different. 

Napoli 4 vs Liverpool 1, 7 September 2022
Liverpool’s 4-1 loss to Napoli remains their biggest defeat of the season

Dropping Off

Liverpool have been the only side in the land to match the incredible consistency of Pep Guardiola’s Man City over the past few seasons, however, it’s fair to say blips in form have come and gone under Klopp. 

But, one thing that has never waned under the German’s stewardship is the identity the team brings and the game plan they execute on the pitch. At this stage last season, Liverpool were still unbeaten in the Premier League with four wins and three draws, with their first loss only coming in November against West Ham

Roll forward to this season, and Liverpool are sitting ninth in the table with just two Premier League wins in their first seven. The team are currently 11 points off of Arsenal at the top of the table, and 10 off Man City. Liverpool face Arsenal next weekend, and the prospect of coming out of that fixture 14 points adrift is a daunting, albeit very realistic, possibility. 

Gameplans Out The Window

The Reds have conceded a hefty 14 goals in nine matches across all competitions, recording just two clean sheets in that time. Their xGA in the league is just +0.51, but the way in which Liverpool have been swamped and made to look lethargic time and time again has been staggering to see. 

Speaking after the 3-3 draw with Brighton, Jurgen Klopp attributed this change in energy to a lack of confidence in the squad: 

We weren’t convincing enough. I could not say I was 100% convinced we wouldn’t concede. We have to keep working, It is a moment we have to keep going through together. I cannot say what everyone wants to hear. It is just the reality.”

– Jurgen Klopp

The departure of Sadio Mane and sluggish return so far from Darwin Nunez were pointed out early on in the season, but undoubtedly the biggest issue facing Liverpool right now is how consistently the team are conceding the first goal in a game. 

The Reds have conceded the first goal in seven of their first nine matches in all competitions this season. The fact that even Jurgen Klopp wasn’t confident the side wouldn’t stop conceding even after recovering from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead against Brighton speaks volumes about Liverpool’s defensive frailties this season. 

Both Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold have borne a lot of the brunt of the team’s criticism, but the side have truthfully looked leggy right across the park at times. 

“We’ve conceded similar goals now, they have gone through the same gaps. When the timing in our defense isn’t perfect we’re too open. So yes, we have to be more compact. Defending is an art and it worked for us really well for a long time. But with it not working, you realize you have to go back to the basics. We can’t always start anew. If we can help the boys with ways to defend differently, we have to do that.”

– Jurgen Klopp

What Is The Answer? 

In short, it doesn’t look like Jurgen Klopp has much of an answer right now. 

The German manager has spoken about the need to revert the team back to do the ‘basics’ right again, but this season is already starting to rack up 2020/21 vibes so far. That season saw the Reds lose an unprecedented six games at home (albeit in an empty Anfield), and only sneak into the top four right at the tail-end of the campaign. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s slip to let Leandro Trossard in for Brighton’s first goal at the weekend perhaps epitomized things better than any tactic board could: the English defender was exposed, looked slow in his response, and eventually made a costly error.

As mentioned right at the top of this piece, Liverpool still have plenty of credit in the bank for us to think they’re still fit to turn things around and make a decent season out of 2022/23. A win over Arsenal and a subsequent string of results will see the side leapfrog back into Champions League contention, and don’t be too surprised to see that winning formula return to these talented stars. 

Of course, that plan does rely on the Reds overcoming Mikel Arteta and his whiteboard-based motivational speeches.