There’s a whole host of statistics you could unleash to highlight just how miserly Liverpool’s defence was last season. Let’s start with the final figure in the ‘goals conceded’ column when the Premier League campaign drew its last breath – 22. Nobody else in the division conceded fewer. Arsenal and Manchester United, two teams who during the 1990s and early 2000s were famed for their barely penetrable rearguards, shipped 51 and 54 respectively.
Alisson ended the season with 21 Premier League clean sheets from 38 games, the highest in the league. You can add another six to that from the Champions League, including shutouts in the second leg of the semi-final against Barcelona and the final against Tottenham. Taking out the 3-0 first leg defeat to Barca, Liverpool let in just two goals in six Champions League knockout games – one of those against Porto when progression was assured, to all intents and purposes.
In the 53 games the Reds played in 2018/19, they only conceded multiple goals in 10 of them, and two of those were with much-changed teams in domestic cups when Simon Mignolet was between the sticks. The most they conceded in any match was three and that only happened twice, the 4-3 league win at home to Crystal Palace and the aforementioned loss at the Nou Camp.
Liverpool’s games from last August were a portent of how robust their defence would be throughout the season. In Premier League wins over West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton, Jurgen Klopp’s men did not let in a single goal. It took until the second half of their fourth match for Leicester to finally deprive Alisson of a clean sheet and that was a self-inflicted wound from the Brazilian after his daft attempt to try and trick his way around Kelechi Iheanacho instead of just clearing his lines.
If those first three games set the tone for the season, Klopp will be hoping that the Reds’ first four competitive outings of 2019/20 are not a sign of things to come. Liverpool have already seen five goals going past them in the early weeks of the campaign – it took until the final weeks of September, and the closing stages of their eighth match, for that to happen last season.
Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City (4-5 pens), Community Shield, 4 August
Joe Gomez was caught badly napping in the opening exchanges, being mugged by Raheem Sterling, who set up Leroy Sane for a chance that hit the side netting. The Reds were then collectively caught cold for the opening goal on 12 minutes. As Kyle Walker looked up to see nine red shirts straddled in a compact line ahead of him, he picked out Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left flank and the ball eventually found its way to Sterling to break the deadlock.
Into the second half, Liverpool’s high defensive line nearly led to Manchester City doubling their advantage. As Fernandinho entered Liverpool’s half, the deepest Reds player was Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was transcending the circumference of the centre circle. One clever through ball to Sterling, who peeled away casually from Gomez, set the 24-year-old up for a one-on-chance he should have buried.
Liverpool later equalised through Joel Matip and took the game to penalties, losing 5-4 in the shootout. The Reds performed impressively in the second half, limiting their opponents to just two shots, although there were moments in the game where questions could be asked of their defensive work.
Liverpool 4-1 Norwich, Premier League, 9 August
Liverpool put their first league match of the season to bed by half-time with four goals in the opening 45 minutes, but a sharper team than Norwich would have made the Reds pay for some early sloppiness. Marco Stiepermann missed two promising chances early on, one of which came about from a careless pass by Alisson.
Into the second half, the Reds had the points wrapped up by the time Norwich found a route to goal. Gomez and Alexander-Arnold, two very good young defenders, were completely split by Teemu Pukki through the middle, the former allowing the ball to run past him before the Canaries striker dispatched his shot beyond Adrian. It was a goal that the visitors deserved for their endeavour throughout the game.
The final score was harsh on Norwich, who had 12 shots to Liverpool’s 15. If Stiepermann had been more clinical with his first half chances, this could have been a very uncomfortable night for last season’s Premier League runners-up.
Liverpool 2-2 Chelsea (5-4 on pens), Super Cup, 14 August
During the first half of the clash in Istanbul, Chelsea caught the Liverpool defence napping on more than one occasion with long balls through the centre, only to be thwarted firstly by poor control from Olivier Giroud and then the excellent reading of the play from Andrew Robertson.
Just after the half-hour, the Reds were indebted to goalkeeper Adrian for throwing himself at the feet of Mateo Kovacic after being played through by Pedro, one simple pass taking out four players in red. When Chelsea broke the deadlock in the 36th minute, they were good value for their lead. Pedro slipped the ball into Giroud, who got away easily from the ball-watching Matip before finishing past Adrian.
The match eventually went into extra time and, with the score at 2-2, it was the Blues who finished the 30 additional minutes on top and missed a couple of good chances to have won it late on. Even without Eden Hazard, who has terrorised Liverpool so often in the past, Chelsea still managed to score twice past Adrian and registered 20 shots over 120 minutes of football, the equivalent of 15 in a standard 90-minute game.
Southampton 1-2 Liverpool, Premier League, 17 August
Southampton were among the Premier League’s weaker attacks last season, their 45-goal tally superior to only five other teams, but still troubled Liverpool on multiple occasions in the first half. Maya Yoshida and Che Adams let the Reds off the hook by failing to convert free headers before Mane put Liverpool ahead on the stroke of half-time.
Adrian came in for a lot of stick for passing the ball straight to Danny Ings for the goal Southampton eventually scored to halve Liverpool’s lead late on, but just before that howler, there was a legitimate question to be asked of the usually impeccable Virgil van Dijk. With Stuart Armstrong applying pressure, should the Dutchman have simply knocked the ball out for a throw-in rather than passing it back to his goalkeeper?
Van Dijk was nearly caught out again a few minutes later as Ings failed to get a proper connection to an inviting low cross that he ought to have stuck away. The Saints striker got in behind Liverpool’s number 4, who only realised that Ings had gotten through by the time the cross was played to him.
Southampton recorded 14 shots on the day, only one fewer than Liverpool. That the Reds gave up so many opportunities to a team that battled relegation in the last two seasons is a worrying sign ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Arsenal, the only other team in the Premier League with a 100% record going into this weekend. It’s one they could preserve if Liverpool don’t rediscover the defensive steel that characterised their glorious 2018/19 campaign.