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Liverpool finally show their ability to ‘dig in’ under Klopp

The Reds show their gritty side in a hard fought, well earned 0-2 victory at Selhurt Park on Monday night.

It was not the night that neutrals had hoped for in South London. Whenever Liverpool are involved, Sky or BT are always hoping for a blockbuster ninety minutes of chaos and goals. They have gotten what they hope for on plenty of occasions as well as Liverpool’s previously leaky defense has been very obliging to opposition teams.

However Klopp’s men showed a rather different side to themselves against a robust Crystal Palace on Monday night. Liverpool were very well organized and disciplined as they absorbed considerable pressure from Roy Hodgson’s side. Ultimately it was a victory built on the back of a well drilled, methodical back four with a visible leader and confident goalkeeper. It was also  a result that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago.

Different story

This time last year, Klopp and his new look Liverpool team fronted by Mo Salah, had just faced off against Watford for their Premier League curtain raiser.

Within eight minutes the same old questions were being asked. Yet another sloppy goal had been conceded from a set play, from which Liverpool looked all over the place. The Achilles Heel was still there and plenty of pundits rightly dismissed Liverpool’s title credentials. Few can blame them, the route to getting something from The Reds was simple, lash a big man upfront and get the ball in the box to him. Do it enough times and a goal will come eventually.  It’s crude but it worked.

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It was painful for the supporters but in many ways that 3-3 draw with Watford was the perfect summation of the club’s problems a year ago.

Simon Mingolet was still the goalkeeper. The back four was brittle to say the least, lacking all important leadership and Alberto Moreno was still fully licensed to bomb forward without caring much for his defensive duties. In a word, it was a shambles. Any clean sheets that were registered came more from luck than a keen ability to see a game out.

You couldn’t but feel that the players at the back, between them, just couldn’t provide a sound platform. A goal or individual error seemed inevitable and despite all the good work being done on Liverpool as an attacking force, it all felt pretty pointless with such a shoddy defense.

A long way in 12 months

January 2018 was perhaps the most important month in Klopp’s tenure. He finally got his man after a very long and protracted chase. Van Dijk was brought in from Southampton. A world record fee for a defender was paid, with many querying the £75 million price tag as an excessive sum.

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It’s has though, proven to be a the wisest of investments. Liverpool managed 17 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, conceding just ten goals at Anfield, three of them coming against Manchester City. This was the best defensive haul since 2009/10. It was also a big improvement on the previous two campaigns, when the club managed just eleven and twelve clean sheets respectively. The vast majority of this improvement came with the big Dutchman at the vanguard of Liverpool’s defense.

He is a wonderful leader, a consistent, strong head on the ball and top class reader of the game. Any side chasing the top honours needs a man of his credentials. He expertly marshaled Benteke  and helped keep the Reds back four together when they came under two intense twenty minute periods of pressure. Again, had this have been the Liverpool of last year, you cannot help but feel they would have wilted under the pressure and yielded precious points.

Turning away from half-measures

Since Andy Robertson’s installation as first choice left-back, and Van Dijk’s arrival, the club looked watertight at the back once more, after years of defensive disrepair. Lovren was a player transformed with a more assured partner and Trent has been a revelation at right back. However, as was proven all too painfully displayed in Kiev, the club still didn’t have a goalkeeper.

Whether it be Karius or Mingolet, Liverpool just couldn’t get it right between the sticks. Klopp gave both men ample opportunity to prove their worth, but was repaid with lost finals and gaffes galore. Neither man cut an inspiring or convincing figure, even Karius was still shaky in the second half of last season, despite a reasonable run of good form.

The general feeling going into the summer, after the Champions League Final defeat was that the club couldn’t solider on with half-measures. A new recruit was sorely needed. Once again the club was left with little option but to break the bank with a world record transfer for a goalkeeper, even it was a record which last a matter of weeks. Alisson Becker was signed in mid-July and most fans were left in a daze at the club’s lofty recruitment ambitions. It is only very early days, but the early signs are there that the club has finally turned a corner with it’s ‘keeper.

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The Brazilian was in solid form at Palace. His kicking was excellent, finding a team-mate with thirteen out of fifteen kick outs.  His handling was solid and decisive, a demonstration to his colleagues in front of him that they have a man willing to come for the ball. Crucially though, he was ready when called on. It wasn’t a night of bombardment for the keeper, but he expertly turned Millojevic’s free kick past the post and showed great handling throughout. It was truly encouraging display. One in which Mingolet and Karius seemed incapable of delivering on a consistent basis.

It was a truly encouraging display all round to be fair for Liverpool. Last season they didn’t win anywhere enough of these games, lacking composure and defensive poise at key moments. In so many ways, this result and performance would have been impossible last season. Liverpool have added crucial, previously missing elements to their game and are still improving all the time under Klopp. The fans will be hoping that Sky’s audience are let down much more often as this kind of performance becomes more common.

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