Liverpool's back four is on course to secure the club's best defensive record in a league campaign since 1979
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At the peak of Liverpool’s success, Bob Paisley would be asked to name his favoured starting XI.
“Same as last year,” he replied.
Such consistency in personnel is increasingly rare in the moden world of squad reconstruction and rotation, but Jurgen Klopp is optimistic he will soon make a similar observation about his defence.
The average age of Liverpool’s current back four is just under 25. It will drop further when 21-year-old Joe Gomez, fit to return to the squad at Southampton on Friday, is considered ready to resume his partnership with Virgil Van Dijk. The backline could stay together for at least another five years and it is a frightening proposition that – despite already threatening club records – it is not fully matured.
"They have a long career ahead, which is cool, and how it looks at the moment is that they want to spend the majority of their careers here, which is cool as well," said Klopp.
Klopp’s side has conceded 19 goals in 32 fixtures, on course to secure Liverpool’s best defensive record in a league campaign since 1979.
Liverpool's best Premier League defensive records
They already yield fewer goals per game (on average) than any Liverpool side in the Premier League era, hoping to eclipse the 25 given up by Rafa Benitez’s team in 2005-06.
Van Dijk has become the emblem of transformation, his return to St Mary’s a reminder of why Liverpool felt his contentious transfer worth £75 million.
But Klopp believes the diversity of personalities across his back line which is its true strength.
“Having different characters always helps, if you are all mainstream, all the same way, that is difficult,” said Klopp.
“In England it is probably not the most expensive defence in the world, but it is a proper one – a really proper one. That is all that counts. Wherever good players are coming from, wherever they are raised, wherever the dream started, they are welcome. Sometimes we can afford them, sometimes not. But now it feels to me they are a proper bunch of players together, they really stick to each other and the club in a way which is exceptional.”
Although Van Dijk cost a world record fee in January 2018, the combined cost of the rest of the current back four is modest. Andy Robertson cost £8 million when he joined from Hull City, Joel Matip was a free transfer from Schalke, Trent Alexander-Arnold is a graduate of the club’s academy and Gomez cost £3.5 million from Charlton Athletic.
Van Dijk has proved his £75m transfer fee was no gamble for Liverpool
“I hope these transfers you can still find. I don’t know at the moment, but I hope so,” said Klopp.
“The best way would be we don’t have to do a lot because the age group of the players is brilliant.
“It is not important how much you cost or how big the price was.
“Virgil came here and it was a big step for him. He knows he can improve and he wants to improve. He was at Celtic and could win titles, but he sees his future here now. It was exactly the same for Robbo.
“It is not important if you are seven, eight or ten million. Joel was the same and he was on a free transfer. Trent dreamed of nothing else since he was born of being involved in something like this. Joe is fit again as well. It is all different ideas and characters.”
If Klopp’s defence and attack might pick itself for a while, he has more dilemmas in midfield. There was surprise when Fabinho was left on the bench against Tottenham, which may explain why Klopp disclosed a week later that a minor fitness issue on his return from the Brazil squad cost him a starting place.
“Fab couldn’t train one day a little bit – not long enough to really know how he reacts after the international break,” he explained.
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“Not playing, but flying a lot and training a lot. If you are not playing you train more than the other players. The selection is always about me trying to guess what will happen and what I see in training. That makes the line up.
“We chose a formation we thought would enable us to adapt pretty quick (to how Tottenham set-up).
“We didn’t but that wasn’t only because of the midfield. Our front three defended exactly the same way against the four (at the back) as they did for the five and that made the spaces too big for the rest. We didn’t adapt quickly enough and that wasn’t good.”
City’s midweek victory keeps Liverpool in must-win territory. Many foresee a Pep Guardiola quadruple. Fewer are predicting a Liverpool Premier League and European double.
“If I was watching from outside, you’d think it looks like City can win all four,” said Klopp.
“And I think the same. But that doesn’t mean that they will win all their games.”