A Summer of Klopp pt.2: Defenders

In my previous post, I looked at the future of Liverpool’s goalkeepers. This time around, I turn my attention to our defence.

It is no secret that our success of the 2000’s was built a solid defence. From Henchoz and Hyypia to Carragher and Agger as our central partnership, with players such as Babbel, Finnan, Arbeloa, Riise and Aurelio (when fit) controlling the flanks, “defensive frailties” was a phrase unheard of. Unfortunately in recent seasons it has been something that has become all too familiar.

Between 05/06 – 09/10 we only conceded more than 30 goals once (35 in 09/10). In each season since, we have conceded over 40 goals including 50 goals in the exhilarating 13/14 season, a total matched by this years campaign. Unlike the 13/14 season though, we haven’t been able to bail ourselves out with the “we’ll score more than you” mentality.

The fans have recognised this issue. Other teams know that we have this issue. Obviously Klopp has recognised it too by already moving to bring in Schalke’s Joel Matip on a free transfer. However, one player won’t fix up a team that have conceded an average of 1.32 gpg this season. So, who from our current defence is worth retaining? And whose time is finally up?

DEFENDERS
Full-Backs

Nathaniel Clyne
The right-back that Benitez left us with as a parting gift was Glen Johnson. Considered the “final piece of the jigsaw”, his attacking play was good but his defending left a lot to be desired. He was signed for £17million and probably remained at the club far too long. HIs replacement, the right-back that Rodgers left us with as a parting gift, is Nathaniel Clyne. The full-back, who has demonstrated a wonderful balance between attack and defence along with being our most consistent performer, was signed for £12.5million. Right now, that is looking like an absolute steal.
Verdict: Keep
That he has been one of the least discussed Liverpool players is testament to the fact that he does his job and he does it well. His final ball has visibly improved as the season has progressed and, with time still on his side, he should have his position in our starting XI nailed down for plenty of years to come.

Jon Flanagan
Local lad Flanagan has a special place in the heart of many a Kopite. The “Scouse Cafu” throws himself into every challenge and wears his heart on his sleeve. What he lacks in ability and technical skill he makes up for in commitment and determination. He will never be a world-beater and he may never be a permanent fixture in the starting XI, but you cannot argue where his loyalties lie. Flanagan knows his strengths and recognises his weaknesses which allows him to be effective. The most important thing about him though, is that he knows how to defend.
Verdict: Keep
Hopefully he has overcome his recent injury hell and will be able to kick-on under Klopp. Pre-season is going to be a very important for Flanagan to regain the fitness levels that Klopp worries may have deserted him during his 15 months on the sidelines. The fact he can play in either full-back position comfortably is something that will come in handy as Klopp looks to re-build.

Alberto Moreno
Ahh Alberto, why must you torture us so? In the fall-out of our Europe League disappointment it was Moreno who faced the fans wrath although, in truth, none of our players turned up for the second half. I do feel that that backlash he is receiving is slightly unjustified considering no player created more chances than him for us in the Premier League this season. Unfortunately his lapses in concentration and desire to attack have often led teams to exploit our left-flank, exposing Moreno’s poor defensive ability time and again. In fact, so inept was his second-half defensive display against Sevilla that it led to Jamie Carragher posting one of the more colourful tweets seen from an ex-pro this season. 
Verdict: Keep
So Moreno is a left-back who can’t really defend, but provides both width and speed in attack.  His ability to carve out chances for his team-mates should not be overlooked, whilst he has shown that he has a handy left foot and isn’t afraid to have a shot at goal. Maybe then, his future at the club should be in a more advanced position? His best football at the club came when playing wing-back, while Klopp loves having an out-and-out winger who has the speed and stamina to track back. Is Moreno not tailor-made to fulfill that role? Surely it is worth a gamble. Either way, a new left-back should be made a priority this summer. The question is, who?

Andre Wisdom
Remember him? Built like a bull? He signed a new 4 year contract with the club in May 2015 before spending the 15-16 seasons out on loan with Norwich, having spent the 14-15 season with WBA. Unfortunately that move didn’t really work out and he only made 10 appearances for the Premier League strugglers last term.
Verdict: Sell
Despite still having 3 years left on his contract, it is hard to see where Wisdom can go from here. I honestly cannot see him having a future at Liverpool and, at 23, he needs regular playing time. Much like Martin Kelly in 2014, it would be best for him to move on and find a club who will give him an extended run in the team. Perhaps a move to a recently relegated team like Newcastle could kick-start his career?

Brad Smith
Pace, a wicked left foot, defensively suspect. Now, where have we heard that before?
This season has seen quite a turn-around for the young Australian defender considering he was out-of-contract last summer. Liverpool retained his registration however, and he finally settled his dispute with the club by signing a new contract in November. You could argue, however, that this was more out of necessity on the clubs behalf than anything else as we sorely lacked defensive cover at the time.
Verdict: Sell
Some might see this decision as quite controversial, but his playing style is very similar to Moreno’s and – in my opinion – he is a lesser player. If we don’t sign a new left-back this summer he may get a reprieve, but I can’t bring myself to believe that he will feature next season bar another spate of injuries or a long League Cup run.

Joe Maguire
If Brad Smith does leave, it may open up an opportunity for 20 year old Joe Maguire, another product of the Liverpool Academy. A left-back by trade, his sole Liverpool appearance came as a substitute against Exeter City in the FA Cup.
Verdict: Keep
I know very little about Joe Maguire, and 25 minutes of action against Exeter City in the FA Cup is hardly something on which to form an opinion. I think he would benefit from a full season out on loan so Klopp and the coaching team can see how he fares playing competitive football – a move to League One or the Championship is probably most likely in hope he can come back and challenge for the 17/18 season.

Connor Randall
Despite a nervy start, things looked promising for Randall when he made his debut in the 6-1 demolition of Southampton. Unfortunately, having watched him play several times since, I worry that he may be out of his depth and could struggle to make the step up to the level required to be a long-term fixture at Liverpool, especially with Clyne and Flanagan above him in the pecking order.
Verdict: Undecided
Much like Maguire, I think a season out on loan may benefit Randall a lot more than remaining with the U21’s, with his path to the first team currently blocked. That doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the action taken though.

Ryan McLaughlin
5 starts on loan at Aberdeen during the 15-16 season is not good enough for a player once thought to be Glen Johnson’s heir apparent.
Verdict: Sell
McLaughlin’s career hasn’t quite proceeded as expected and his development seems to have stalled. I believe it is time to say goodbye.

Centre-Backs

Dejan Lovren
Under Klopp, Lovren has been a player reborn. He has proven to be a reliable defender, capable of marshalling the defence and showing good awareness of those around him. Whilst his blossoming partnership with Sakho may be put on hold for the time-being, his impressive form continued whilst side-by-side with Toure. It’s almost unthinkable that this is the same player whose ridiculous attempt to shield the ball out of play led to West Ham’s second goal in their victory against us at the start of the season
Verdict: Keep
His fall-out with the Croatian National Team coach has denied what would have been a well-deserved call up for Euro 2016. However, that means he will have a full, uninterrupted pre-season with Klopp which can only be to his benefit. Expect him to be in the starting XI come August.

Martin Skrtel
Our Slovakian stalwart truly encapsulates our defences recent history; a disaster waiting to happen. The previously mentioned campaigns where we have conceded 40+ goals have all seen him feature and, after losing his place in the side due to injury this season, he has struggled to win it back with both Lucas and Toure being preferred. The writing has been on the wall for him ever since being brought on at half-time in the 3-2 loss to Southampton. Not only did he concede a penalty, but he made mistakes for all three goals.
Verdict: Sell
Skrtel seemed to wave goodbye to the crowd following the final game of the season, providing the biggest hint yet that his Anfield career may be over. He believes that he should be a guaranteed starter, and being over-looked by Klopp following Sakho’s suspension by the club would have told him all he needs to know. It’s time to say goodbye.

Mamadou Sakho
Oh Mama, what have you done? I think it is fair to say that he is very much a Marmite player, but his performances this season had finally started win over the doubters – as well as the media. His on-field spirit coupled with his (positive) off-field antics has given Sakho hero status. Unfortunately he is facing the possibility of a playing ban that could last anywhere from 6 months – 2 years after admitting a guilty plea to using a banned substance.  His defensive partnership with Lovren appeared to have extended to a friendship and, though their pairing would have been under-threat from the incoming Matip, it was going from strength to strength.
Verdict: Keep
Everyone is awaiting UEFA’s verdict on the length of Sakho’s ban, and it is expected to be delivered next week. Sakho’s future could greatly hinge on the decision that is made. I am a huge fan of Sakho and, if it is the minimum 6 months awarded, his future will be secured. Should he carry a 2 year ban or longer, then his career could really be in jeopardy. I am a huge fan of Sakho’s, so I am hoping the ban is 12 months or less. More than that, we are a much stronger team with him than without him.

Kolo Toure
With no new contract forthcoming, it does look like Toure’s time with the Red is up. At the start of the season, that wouldn’t have caused much of an issue. Now, however, it is a different story as Toure is one of many players who seems to have been rejuvenated by the arrival of Klopp. Whether it be filling in for an injured player, or stepping in to replace Sakho whilst he serves his ban, Kolo has been absolutely immense whenever he has stepped foot on the pitch.
Verdict: Keep
In an ideal world, Kolo would be offered a player-coach role at the club. His wealth of experience and his personality would be invaluable off the pitch, whilst he could still do a job on the pitch as a bit-part player. However, if the Europa League final has proven to be his final game for the Reds, then at least he went out in style, rolling back the years to remind everyone exactly why he was an integral part of Arsenal’s “Invincibles”.

Joe Gomez
Many expected him to go out on loan this season, however pre-season scuppered those plans with his talent plain for all too see. When I first learnt of Liverpool’s interest in the former Charlton Athletic defender, I spoke to my Charlton-supporting friend for his opinion. His response was emphatic, describing Gomez as Charlton’s best defender, with the ability to become one of the best centre-backs this country has ever seen.
The transition to Premier League football did not faze Gomez and, despite him playing at left-back prior to injury, his long-term future will be in the centre of defence.
Verdict: Keep
Suffering an ACL injury on England U21 duty just after Klopp joining would have been a suckerpunch for a player who had made such a strong start to his Liverpool career. However, Gomez only turns 19 on the 23rd May so hopefully he will bounce back stronger than ever. An initial fee of £3.5million rising to £8million with add-ons will prove to be an absolute steal for a player who could potentially become worth more than £30million.

Tiago Ilori
Ilori’s case is a curious one. He arrived from Sporting on the same day as Sakho, with Brendan Rodgers proclaiming that their signings would ensure the protection of Liverpool’s central defence for the next decade. Whilst Sakho needed a new manager to really get going, Tiago Ilori has become Liverpool’s forgotten man. Before being re-called from his loan spell due to Liverpool’s injury crisis, he couldn’t even get into a Aston Villa side who were giving away goals left, right and centre. His debut for the club didn’t go quite to plan either, his lack of fitness evident for everyone.
Verdict: Sell
There is still plenty of time for Ilori to salvage his career, but he is probably better suited to a return to Portugal or heading back out to Spain where he spent a season on loan. I’d be surprised if another English club took a chance on him, but I can almost guarantee that Klopp and Liverpool won’t.

Joel Matip
The new boy on the block. Matip was pursued for a long time by Klopp before finally signing a pre-contract agreement. The media’s scouting reports all say the right things about him, but as with any new signing, nothing can be certain. However, highly rated in Germany, loved by the Schalke fans and a full-fledged international all suggest that we could have a highly accomplished defender on their way with plenty of room in which to improve.
Verdict: N/A
With Sakho likely to start the season banned, if Matip can hit the ground running in the pre-season friendlies than I expect him to line-up alongside Lovren as we open up our Premier League campaign. Hopefully his dominance at set-pieces will shore up a defence that leaks plenty of goals from a dead-ball situation.

My next post will look at Liverpool’s midfielders. Feel free to leave a comment about what you think below!

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