Jurgen Klopp acknowledged Liverpool's injury woes have had a knock-on effect with the stability and structure of the rest of his line-up. (More Football News)
Liverpool lost the influential Virgil van Dijk to a serious knee injury in the Merseyside derby back in October, while centre-back partner Joe Gomez is likely to miss the rest of the campaign having damaged his patella in November.
Joel Matip's own fitness issues reared their head again in Liverpool's 3-1 victory over Tottenham on Thursday when he damaged his ankle.
The Premier League champions have had to utilise defensive midfielder Fabinho almost exclusively in defence this term, with skipper Jordan Henderson also filling in at centre-back.
Liverpool's triumph over Tottenham Spurs ended a five-match winless run in the top flight that has threatened to damage their title defence beyond repair.
Klopp explained how the issues in defence have also affected Liverpool in other areas of the pitch.
"Football is all about individual skills of course, we have to bring it together to make it work," he said.
"So, it's about the structure of the team, about stability, about reliability, knowing what the other boy is doing in this moment, react on it, prepare your action.
"It's about leadership as well, on the pitch, who leads the line, who used to do that. It's not a secret Virgil van Dijk was our last line. So, organisation wise, move up, these kind of things, with the ball a little as well, that's how it is it developed that way.
"That was a job for a little while for Joe, who grew in the job. Then Joe was out, Joel played together with Fabinho so both players are not the most vocal players on the pitch.
"Plus we miss our most natural six when we speak about structure and stability, it changed the whole set-up.
"Usually in football when one player has the ball all the others know kind of what will happen, because they are used to it, he steps in or plays the long pass, all that was gone in a period when we played every three days.
"The boys did really well with that to be honest but it cost a lot of energy and focus to adapt to these things, it cost most of all fluidity."
482 – Roberto Firmino’s goal was Liverpool’s first in the Premier League since December (Mane vs West Brom), ending the Reds’ run of 482 minutes and 93 shots without scoring in the competition. Alleviated. #TOTLIV pic.twitter.com/ArjzwrNqs9— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 28, 2021
WHAT ARE LIVERPOOL MISSING IN VAN DIJK?
It should come as little surprise that Liverpool are far more successful with Van Dijk in the team than without him.
Going back to start of last season, Van Dijk has played in 57 games across all competitions for the Reds, while missing out on 30.
With Van Dijk involved they have a win percentage of 71.9 compared to 53.3 when he has not played. Additionally, the average points per game drops from 2.3 to 1.9 .
Perhaps a little surprisingly, Liverpool concede slightly fewer goals per game – but the 1 as opposed to 1.1 is negligible and the fact their average goals drops from 2.2 to 1.9 suggests Klopp's point about the positional changes in his team bears fruit.
From the start of last season to the date of Van Dijk's injury, only Manchester City (42) and Sheffield United (45) had conceded fewer than their 46 among teams that were playing in the top flight across both seasons.
Moreover, the Reds ranked second for clean sheets (16) and fewest shots on target faced (134), while they were third for fewest shots total faced (386). Somewhat surprisingly, they had 28 errors leading to shots (including goals) although this may be attributed to the style employed by Klopp.
Since Van Dijk's injury, Liverpool still compare favourably in terms of goals conceded (only City with six have shipped fewer than their 10), but nine teams have more clean sheets. They also slip slightly to third for fewest shots on target faced (45).
In that same time period, Van Dijk ranked sixth for duels won (256), 11th for recoveries (239), 11th for clearances (170) and second for aerial duels won (203) in the Premier League.
LACK OF REALISTIC REPLACEMENTS?
One solution of course is for Liverpool to enter the transfer market ahead of the deadline on Monday, but the mid-season window is traditionally tricky to find good deals.
Klopp has made no secret of the fact that Liverpool will reinforce if the right solution comes along, but with clubs reluctant to sell their best players during the season the German may have to make do.
"We know the clubs where the better centre-halves are playing, where they are obviously interesting, tell me if one of these clubs need money and has to sell a player," Klopp said.
"We see the situation, we lost two probably two of best of the centre-halves in the market at all in the space of six-seven weeks.
"That's massive, you have to look, find a solution in that moment. We tried, we see the situation, we don't close our eyes. to play your season you need to be lucky with injuries, we know that. we are not lucky in these moments.
"I said all the time we're busy checking specific things in the market, we always did, we'll do it now as well and we'll see if something will happen or not."