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The good, the bad & the centre-back solution – Debating Tottenham 1-3 Liverpool

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There was much to love about Liverpool’s 3-1 victory away to Tottenham, but the centre-back crisis has become an even greater issue now.

The Reds produced one of their best performances of the season on Thursday night, outplaying Spurs and recording their first Premier League win since December 19.

Roberto Firmino put Jurgen Klopp‘s side in front bang on half-time and Trent Alexander-Arnold doubled the visitors’ advantage early in the second half.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg pulled a goal back from distance, but Sadio Mane finished emphatically to seal the win for Liverpool.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by fellow writers Dan Clubbe (@dan_clubbe) and Liam Togher (@liamtogher88) to dissect a brilliant victory and also look at centre-back options for the Reds to potentially sign.

 

The good…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 28, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané (R) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by Propaganda)

DAN: They’ve got some swagger back!

After showing glimpses of a return to life last weekend, this was the Liverpool team I’ve come to recognise in the last 18 months. Quicker through the lines, accurate and at times clinical.

Firmino was a standout player – when he plays well, Liverpool do. He’s that impressive at dropping into spaces and finding exactly where the defenders can’t go, Harry Kane aspires to emulate him.

He scored an almost customary goal against Tottenham, to boot.

Having Trent back to his best was also a huge positive. After weeks of seemingly being unable to cross, pass or shoot, it all came back in one beautiful performance.

LIAM: Ah, at last a Premier League victory. While we got an early break with Son’s harshly disallowed goal – let’s be honest, we’d be fuming if that had gone against one of our players – the result was a fully deserved one, especially on the second-half performance.

While everyone can be pleased with their performance, I’m going to single out three players for lofty praise.

Trent has looked a pale shadow of himself in recent weeks, but last night he was back to the effervescent, roving right-back we know and love. It certainly doesn’t seem a coincidence that we returned to winning ways once he rediscovered his best form.

The midfield may have been deprived of Henderson, but the leadership void in the engine room was ably filled by the evergreen Milner.

Four key passes and three interceptions sums up the all-action influence he wielded in the middle of the park, as he demonstrated yet again why he is adored by so many Kopites and, indeed, by Klopp and his team-mates.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 28, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino scores the first goal with the last kick of the first half during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by Propaganda)

Then we come to Firmino, who impressed me as much as he did Dan.

Maybe a hypnotist should convince him before every game that he’s playing against Spurs because the sight of a cockerel-embroidered shirt invariably seems to bring out the goal-poacher in Bobby.

His intervention on the stroke of half-time turned a frustrating first half into a satisfying one and his linkup play was back on point after some fallow weeks.

Just when it seemed that some fans’ patience with him had snapped, he reminded us of how invaluable he can be to this Liverpool team when the ‘dazzler’ lives up to that moniker.

HENRY: I think the lads have covered everything to perfection – I agree with every word.

Getting another win at long last felt like a huge weight being lifted and the manner of the performance made it even more pleasing.

Trent and Bobby have been two of the poorest performers this season, but they were both Man of the Match contenders. They make Liverpool tick more than most and their form so often mirrors the team’s.

Everyone did well, though, with Nat Phillips worthy of special praise for coming on at half-time and showing great heart and aerial presence.

In the space of 90 minutes, we’ve gone from the title race being over to looking like contenders again, admittedly with Man City still the overriding favourites.

 

The bad…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 28, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by Propaganda)

DAN: Yet more injuries tarnished an otherwise near-perfect night. Liverpool can’t afford to not act in the transfer market now.

Also VAR, just for a change. How a Firmino handball on the halfway line, whilst being fouled by Eric Dier who handles the ball originally, can be construed as a disallowed Liverpool goal and a free-kick to Spurs is beyond the pale.

Someone needs to tell Thiago referees in this country do not like slide tackles. I think he’s picked up a yellow card in every outing and they are often early on. Walking a tightrope time and time again.

LIAM: The obvious one is yet another injury to Matip, one which left us with a centre-back pairing of a midfielder in Henderson and a relatively untested youngster in Phillips.

While neither did anything wrong, the Cameroonian’s latest injury absence is the one blemish on this result, as Dan rightly points out, particularly at a time where defensive resources are already extremely stretched.

While we got a reprieve with Son’s disallowed goal, it was also worrying how he seemed to find acres of space in behind and between our defence during the first half.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 28, 2021: Liverpool's Joel Matip (L) and captain Jordan Henderson before the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by Propaganda)

The ever-changing centre-back combinations don’t help, but that must be something Klopp will analyse with the likes of Man City and Leicester coming up.

If we afford as much space to their attackers as we did to Spurs in the first 45, it could come back to bite us big time.

HENRY: Matip is the obvious negative to take – I think he’s a brilliant defender, but it’s now reaching the stage where I’ve had enough of him.

You just can’t keep depending on such injury-prone figures.

Not much has been said about him overall – I mentioned it after the Man United defeat at the weekend – but I don’t think Alisson is quite himself at the moment.

He wasn’t great for Son’s disallowed goal, getting beaten at his near post, and some of his distribution was slow and sloppy. I never thought I’d be nervous when he gets the ball, but that’s where I’m at at the moment!

That’s being ultra-critical, though – he’s still the best in the business.

 

And the centre-back solution…

Sven Botman of Lille OSC runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League Group H stage match between LOSC Lille and AC Sparta Praha at Stade Pierre Mauroy on December 3, 2020 in Lille, France. Photo by ABACAPRESS.COM

DAN: It needs resolving before Monday’s deadline. Prior to Matip’s potential long-term setback, I wouldn’t have been surprised if we went with what we have, but that would be negligent now.

Both Henderson and Fabinho have proven themselves to be equipped to fill in when necessary, and Phillips has shown he is capable both tonight and against West Ham, but all three should either be played in their correct position or as a backup, respectively.

Finding a solution in the next three days without overpaying is no mean feat, but needs must. I would like to see us go all out for Sven Botman: young, powerful and could be affordable, given the situation in France.

On top of that, I would like to see a move for a free agent like Neven Subotic, who has worked with Klopp before, was relatively recently playing in the Bundesliga and would offer experience alongside Phillips and Rhys Williams on occasion.

LIAM: If this doesn’t convince FSG that it’s at least worth having a go at bringing in a central defender before Monday night, nothing will.

That the hierarchy doesn’t even seem to have attempted to fix this obvious issue over the past four weeks is nothing short of incredulous.

I agree with Dan that Subotic would seem to be the perfect remedy for a number of reasons.

He is now a free agent after ripping up his contract with Denizlispor during the week, so no need to wrangle with other clubs or dip into the transfer kitty.

He has a wealth of big-game experience in the Bundesliga and Champions League from his time with Borussia Dortmund under the tutelage of…Klopp.

11.09.2010, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, GER, 1.FBL,  Borussia Dortmund vs Vfl Wolfsburg, im Bild: Neven Subotic (Dortmund USA/BIH #4) verfolgt den Ball, EXPA Pictures © 2010, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ nph/  Scholz+++++ ATTENTION - OUT OF GER +++++

At 32, he isn’t going to be the long-term answer, but we don’t even need long-term answers – all we’re asking for is a stable, reliable centre-back option to come in and plug the gap to see us through the rest of the season.

Make it happen, FSG, or at least try.

HENRY: Without making it seem like I’m too lazy to think of my own options, Botman and Subotic were the two names who instantly sprang to mind, for very different reasons.

Botman is a long-term prospect who could come in as both an immediate fix and someone who could be in the Reds’ defence for years.

Liverpool reportedly want a centre-back who is dominant in the air and he wins an average of 3.6 aerial duels per game for Lille in Ligue 1 this season.

20.02.2010, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, GER, 1.FBL 09 10, Borussia Dortmund vs Hannover 96, im Bild 1:0 Neven Subotic ( Dortmund #04 ) Jubel, EXPA Pictures (C) 2010 for Austria only, Photographer EXPA / NPH / Kokenge

Subotic, meanwhile, is a player Klopp knows inside out, and who could do a solid enough job for a few months. He is past his best, but the Reds just need anyone half-competent who can fill in.

There’s been talk of Shkodran Mustafi from Arsenal, but I think I’d rather 63-year-old Mark Lawrenson return to the defence!

If Liverpool don’t sign anyone, it will be one of the worst moments of FGS’s entire reign, and could even cost their club a place in next season’s Champions League.

Inexcusable is the word.

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