LONDON • Jurgen Klopp's spluttering Liverpool team faced a barrage of criticism in the British media yesterday after Sunday's 4-1 Premier League defeat by Tottenham.
The normally assured German has seldom had to deal with such negativity in his two years at Anfield but with the club languishing in ninth place, 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, the pressure is cranking up.
Such is the roller coaster of modern football that reflections on Liverpool's 7-0 trouncing of Maribor in the Champions League last week have been crowded out by talk of their defensive frailties.
The statistics are damning.
The Reds have conceded more goals, 16 in nine games, than in any campaign since 1964-65 and allowed more on the road (15) than bottom side Crystal Palace (12).
Writing in the normally supportive Liverpool Echo, James Pearce said Sunday's display was the worst by a Liverpool side since the 6-1 hiding at Stoke in May 2015 when previous boss Brendan Rodgers' regime started to unravel.
Liverpool's defensive problems have been well documented, with doubts regularly aired about goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and whichever combination of defenders Klopp settles on. Each of Sunday's four goals stemmed from individual errors, some comically bad.
"The first (goal) would not happen if I was on the pitch but I am in the middle of the technical area in my trainers," said Klopp. "It is unbelievably easy to defend, to close the space, we only have to clear the ball, shoe it, we don't do it."
Even in the heat of post-match emotion, to infer that a 50-year-old manager can do a better job than a player does not reflect well.
Six months ago, Liverpool gave centre-half Dejan Lovren a new four-year deal, reported to be worth £100,000 (S$180,000) a week. If you include the £20 million they spent on buying him from Southampton, and his wages to date, that almost represents a £50 million investment in a player who on Sunday was so poor that he was substituted after 30 minutes.
"It was Dejan Lovren who took the walk of shame, but Jurgen Klopp could have taken his whole defence off after 31 minutes and returned them to the manufacturer as faulty goods," wrote Paul Hayward in The Telegraph.
Four of the back five on show predated Klopp's arrival, with Joel Matip, who arrived on a free transfer from Schalke, his only signing.
Andy Robertson, the one defender Klopp did pay money for, has seldom played since his £10 million move from Hull City.
It all adds up to a confusing picture with fans unsure whether to blame the inadequacies of individual players, Klopp's inability to coach defending, or sporting director Michael Edwards, who is in charge of player recruitment.
Klopp's back line is not helped by a midfield pairing of Jordan Henderson and Emre Can who seldom shield in the way N'Golo Kante does at Chelsea, for example, while the Liverpool manager's indecision over his best goalkeeper has added to the air of fragility.
In the short term the only answer lies on the training ground.
"We have to prove we are better defenders than we showed," Klopp said. "I cannot fix it here but we will fix it. We have to work on it."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS