Complacent defending could cost Liverpool big in Jurgen Klopp's Last Dance

At their best under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool just didn’t give up many opportunities. 

The Reds would control the tempo, dominate the ball and suffocate the opposition. For context, the 2018/19 team conceded just 22 goals in the Premier League. The title-winning group allowed just 33 goals. During the 2021/22 campaign, the Reds gave up just 26 goals.

They would regularly string together runs of clean sheets. Towards the end of 2018, they kept six clean sheets during a nine-game winning streak. They finished the 2018/19 campaign with nine clean sheets across 18 games.

This defensive resilience allowed them to easily control the outcome of matches. In 50% of those games, one goal was enough to pick up maximum points.

Mid-way through the following season, Liverpool kept seven successive clean sheets. In fact, they kept 10 clean sheets in 11 matches across December, January and February.

Klopp’s men were utterly ruthless in attack and completely dominant in defence. The perfect blend if you want to mount a title challenge.

Now, while Liverpool are in the hunt for a title this season, the foundations haven’t been quite as sturdy. They aren’t as ruthless in attack, wasting chances galore in recent weeks,  and their defence is far from watertight.

The Reds are without a clean sheet in eight matches across all competitions and it is during this period that their quadruple hopes have collapsed.

Liverpool conceded four goals to a poor Manchester United side in the FA Cup to crash out at the quarter-final stage and their Europa League dreams are in tatters following a 3-0 loss to Atalanta in the first-leg at Anfield.

The Serie A side carved out seven big chances against the Reds on Thursday night and were deserved winners. If we’re being honest, Liverpool were fortunate the away side only scored three goals.

READ MORE: Liverpool see unwanted record matched in shock Atalanta defeat

In the defeat to Manchester United, the hosts created five big chances having effortlessly torn through the midfield time and time again.

Klopp was animated on the touchline at Old Trafford on Sunday during the 2-2 draw with the Red Devils. He was caught on TV screaming at his players to be more compact having gone 2-1 down despite dominating the game.

He was fairly blunt in his post-match press conference following the Europa League loss: “We started really well and then didn't continue. Before they even scored, we just lost the plot a little bit. We were everywhere and nowhere. Midfield was spread like that, right and left. I didn't recognise it a bit, it was really quite strange.”

The German needs to accept some of the blame for going with a weakened XI against Atalanta but the application from some of the players has nothing to do with him. They were naive in their approach, ragged and disjointed in possession and then tired without the ball.

For a second successive game, the players went into the game expecting to win. And you could tell they weren’t as focused as they should’ve been. They didn’t give the opposition the respect they deserved.

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool vs Atalanta

Football - UEFA Europa League - Quarter-Final 1st Leg - Liverpool FC v BC Atalanta LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, April 11, 2024: Liverpool s manager Jürgen Klopp before the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and BC Atalanta at Anfield. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda

You could argue this has been a pattern in Liverpool’s game since the turn of the year. That might explain why they have just kept four clean sheets in 22 games in 2024.

Teams, despite being dominated, are finding ways to score against the Reds. Granted, Alisson Becker isn’t between the sticks and this makes a huge difference but the fact Liverpool are unable to control situations and limit the opposition in ways they were previously able to is an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

READ MORE: 5 talking points from Liverpool's 3-0 defeat to Atalanta

Opponents are heading into games knowing they are going to get a chance to score, no matter how dominant Liverpool are with and without the ball. And that sort of thing isn’t the norm for a Klopp team. That says more about the mentality of these players than anything else.

Perhaps this is inexperience seeping into their game. They are an experienced bunch but, as a group, they have a Carabao Cup to their name. Others have won everything with this club but the midfield unit and most of the attackers haven’t. They don’t have the know-how or the winning nous, but they are expecting to win due to how good this group is. So there’s a touch of complacency to their game and it is being exploited.

If the Reds are going to have a good finish to the season, they need to go back to basics and ensure they aren’t giving up opportunities. Limit the opposition and the comfortable wins will return.

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