Philippe Coutinho’s injury against Sunderland was undoubtedly a blow for Liverpool, but the widespread agreement that his injury has resulted in the Reds’ poor results against Bournemouth and West Ham ignores the club’s biggest issue – their defence.
For starters, scoring goals without the Brazilian magician hasn’t looked like an issue so far. In the three games he’s missed – against Leeds United, Bournemouth and the Hammers – his teammates have chalked up eight goals.
Nor has chance creation, with the Reds registering 18 attempts on goal against Slaven Bilic’s side. But the stats regarding Liverpool’s defence are damning.
They became just the second side to concede four goals to Bournemouth in the last 15 months, with their shambolic defensive display at the Vitality Stadium leaving the Merseysiders with the worst defensive record in the Premier League’s top six. Oh, and they’ve conceded four goals more than 16th-placed Middlesbrough.
The detailed stats from their recent games make even worse reading. In the 2-2 home draw with West Ham on Sunday, the visitors won more aerial duels, made more interceptions, producing more than double the amount of defensive clearances and winning 50 per cent of their tackles, compared to a mere 37 for the Reds.
And it’s been a similar story in a number of games this season, especially as regards heading ability, with Liverpool’s disorganised and lightweight defence outmuscled and out-battled time and time again.
They won just 27 per cent of aerial duels in the 1-1 draw at Tottenham, who bullied their opponents out of a win. Coutinho was playing, in case you were wondering – but they still failed to secure a result, just as in several other games which the winger started this season.
Individual errors have also meant Jurgen Klopp must look to rebuild his defence in January. The calamitous misunderstanding which gifted Ryan Fraser a goal for Bournemouth in the 4-3 defeat is perhaps the most memorable error, but it’s one of a number of defensive mishaps which have undermined the Reds this season.
Add to that a mental fragility which has seen them switch off and concede goals, and you have a real issue for the Anfield faithful to worry about. They’ve conceded the last goal in five Premier League games this season, more than table-topping Chelsea and Arsenal combined.
Of course, we’re not saying that Liverpool aren’t missing Philippe Coutinho at all. He’s the biggest talent in the Anfield dressing room, and belongs among the top bracket of players in English football.
But when you consider the hapless positioning and physical weakness of Liverpool’s defence, and contrast it with the good work they’re still doing in attacking areas, it’s clear to see where the biggest problem lies.
Fortunately for Klopp, it’s one he can fix as soon as January, if the right players are brought in and the deadwood shipped out.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing