Jurgen Klopp could unleash Liverpool’s ‘own Lisandro Martinez’ to solve defensive issues
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Jurgen Klopp must have hoped one reinvention would transform Liverpool's season.
After the Reds endured a stuttering start to the season that scarcely anyone predicted, Klopp was searching for solutions after a chastening 4-1 loss to Napoli in the Champions League. He admitted that his team needed remodelling, having become too predictable for the opposition.
Some five months later, Klopp finds himself at a similar, crucial juncture. Liverpool suffered their latest humbling loss duing a lacklustre campaign at the hands of Wolves last weekend. Klopp could only watch on in horror as the team who'd scored just 12 Premier League goals - the worst tally in the division - fired three past his brittle, ailing side.
Defending was haphazard as Liverpool conceded three goals for a third successive league away game to leave them 10th in the table and all-but surrendering a top-four finish.
With the Merseyside derby against Everton to come, Klopp will be mulling over his team throughout this week. Changes will be required. And Joel Matip's one whose berth is vulnerable.
The centre-back's performance in the Wolves loss was insipid, with the nadir an own goal to give the hosts the lead. Alan Shearer dubbed Matip's display ' nightmare' and plenty of Kopites will likely concur. According to WhoScored player ratings, Matip was the worst of the visitors with a score of just 5.19.
Matip's been an invaluable servant down the years. Snapping him up on a free transfer was as shrewd a piece of business that Klopp has conducted at Anfield and been at the fulcrum of the trophy-laden era. In fact, in his first season after arriving from Schalke in 2016, he helped the Reds book their Champions League return - which paved the way for Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk's respective arrivals.
However, the former Cameroon international currently finds himself out of sorts. His form, in recent weeks, has jettisoned. In Matip's previous three starts, Liverpool have conceded eight goals. More worryingly, in the 12 games he's featured from the outset this season, the Reds have shipped 23 goals. That's just shy of two goals per game.
To place all of the blame on Matip, of course, would be asinine. The majority of Klopp's squad's form this season has been found wanting. Picking a Player of the Year will take some pondering.
But Matip's unquestionably out of form, while he's also struggled with injuries this term.
Whether Virgil van Dijk is available to feature against Everton remains to be seen. The Dutchman is the bedrock of Klopp's side but has been sidelined for more than a month with a hamstring injury.
Van Dijk is due to be reintroduced into parts of training this week. However, given the nature of his setback, Liverpool will not want to risk him breaking down again. A spot on the bench may be more likely.
Ibrahima Konate's one of the few players who has impressed when he's played this campaign. Yet the France international is also sidelined with a hamstring problem. While the severity of Konate's problem is not as bad as van Dijk, he may be another doubt.
Joe Gomez's performances have also come under scrutiny but he has helped yield two clean sheets since the turn of the year.
So what about handing Nat Phillips a chance? Stefan Bajcetic has taken his chance and improved Liverpool's midfield after replacing Fabinho and another bold call in the rearguard could deliver similar results.
Phillips could well have left in the January transfer window as he craves regular action. Having helped Bournemouth to Championship promotion while on loan last term, the 25-year-old will be desperate to feature week in, week out. Yet he was kept at Liverpool as cover against the backdrop of Konate’s issue. And now he could well be in Klopp’s plans for the Everton clash.
Intriguingly, Phillips' record when starting games is impressive. He’s made 21 appearances from the outset for the Reds and boasts a record of 15 victories, three draws and six losses.
Phillips may not be the most cultured centre-half in the world. He’s not one who’ll go on a marauding run or play a 50-yard raking pass. But the former Bolton man is robust and puts his defensive work first. Indeed, Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez was recently lauded by Roy Keane for wanting to defend and having the right character. He wants to defend and he looks the right character - the kind of lad you want to be in the trenches with,” said Keane after United’s Carabao Cup defeat of Nottingham Forest.
In the modern game, it's a trait that perhaps scoffed at. However, given Liverpool's defensive woes, fresh solutions are needed. Phillips could be one who deserves a chance, especially considering Dominic Calvert-Lewin will likely be spearheading the attack.