Liverpool’s clean sheet record earlier in the season was in marked contrast to shipping five goals in three games recently—but Pep Lijnders says it’s not simply down to a defensive issue.
The Reds built their title challenge earlier in the campaign with a series of impressive displays at the back, racking up clean sheet after clean sheet to have the best defensive record in the Premier League.
Such was the level of the Reds’ work in their own half of the pitch that even now, after only two shut-outs in the last seven, they have still conceded five goals fewer than their nearest challengers in the ‘against’ column.
Some might have been concerned at Liverpool’s defensive work when those goals were shipped, and perhaps more so because of injuries and suspensions at the time.
But assistant manager Lijnders has an alternative explanation, one which goes right to the heart of the team’s ethos and identity.
“Everyone was saying we were conceding more goals, with the Palace game as well,” he told LiverpoolFC.com.
“But this has nothing to do with us defending worse, this has everything to do with attacking worse, that we were not protecting enough, that the ball didn’t move quick enough to find the free player, to break lines, that we were sloppy in certain moments when we lost the ball when we were not offensively organised.
“That made it possible that the opposition could counter into the free spaces.
“First of all, [the players] had to understand again and second, correct certain positioning on the pitch when we were preparing the ball in losing situations, so the opposition couldn’t counter.
“Everybody says it was the defending, but that was not the case – it was the case that we didn’t have enough control and enough dominance in possession in the opposition half.”
The idea of defending from the front is nothing new, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side is entirely built on counter-pressing, both offensively and defensively.
So when one aspect of that approach is below-par, it’s easy to see how it affects both sides of the result: 1-1, instead of 1-0 or 2-1.
The victory over Bournemouth was a reset to type, then, as the Reds’ power and pressing was on full display to send the Reds back to the top, albeit briefly.
With a game in hand on Man City, the fate of the title itself is still in Liverpool’s hands, and Lijnders says the Reds have a “big chance”—but must only focus on doing their job the right way in each game.
“It is a crucial period where we have to keep searching for the next step – and if we keep focusing on ourselves, on how we want to play, how we want to develop, how we want to put each team under pressure, then the results will come by themselves. That’s important.
“It’s a big chance, nothing more. We want to deserve it.
“I feel that the team is ready to play against whatever team, wherever, and that we can create problems [for the opposition] because of this.
“We need to use training the best we can, we have to really be prepared for the games in the same manner. That’s it. I am pretty convinced we will find solutions again and again.”
The impact Lijnders has made at the club can be noted in his constant progression within the ranks: from youth coach, to development coach between Academy and first-team level, now as Klopp’s assistant.
His ideals mesh perfectly with the manager’s, and along with the rest of the coaching staff, the players are in good hands for the challenges ahead.