Joël Matip’s tranquil aplomb aside, Liverpool’s current central defenders have generally been an inconsistent bunch. Dejan Lovren started out as a chemical dumpster fire, improved immensely through the Lovrenaissance, and now vacillates between the two. Mamadou Sakho is in the doghouse and never inspired the kind of faith you’d want your starting centre-back to do. Lucas Leiva was famously an attacking midfielder at Grêmio, and Joe Gomez is always injured. Thus, Ragnar Klavan has — despite being a €5m signing of unfancied nationality from a mid-table club — found himself on the pitch in half of Liverpool’s fixtures this year.
The nominal fourth choice at the start of the season has filled in admirably as the Reds have romped their way to second place in the table, and has been part of the side that has conceded just one goal in their three latest games. In Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Stoke City, the backline looked shaky on a total of two occasions — one of which lead to Jon Walters scoring scoring the opening goal — but were very much in control for the remainder of the game. Klavan reveals that the Potters’ kick-and-run approach was the reason for the Reds’ defensive struggles in the opening fifteen minutes.
"They played with high pressure, a lot of long balls, a lot of strong bodies in front," the Estonian international remarked.
"It was nice to see the whole team adapted to the game.
"In the beginning, it wasn't really the best start but slowly we came into the game and adapted to the situation Stoke offered us.
"It was nice to see our team is really mature."
While Klavan correctly identifies Stoke’s gameplan, and while the Potters aren’t quite as one-dimensional under Mark Hughes as they were when Tony Pulis ruled The Britannia, it is odd that the Liverpool defensive line weren’t prepared for it to a greater degree. It might lend credence to the idea that Jürgen Klopp teams play Jürgen Klopp football, opposition be damned, and that specific strategic measures are rarely considered. Saturday’s 6-point matchup with Pep Guardiola’s highly fluid Manchester City side will likely provide another glimpse of insight into whether the German will tailor his tactics to his adversary.