The 2017-18 season is half-way through and Liverpool remain the side they so often have been since Jürgen Klopp arrived at Anfield: attacking, hard working, high scoring, and prone to defensive lapses. Most would look at them and say defending isn’t so much a weakness as something that appears not to be a priority.
Klopp sees things a little differently, saying defence is the first thing he and his players are thinking of. It’s how Klopp sees defending, though, that’s most interesting—and potentially most informative. Liverpool’s manager is clearly focused on it, but he’s not focused on things like defensive shape and midfield screens.
“They want to defend first of all,” was Klopp’s response when asked ahead of today’s match against Swansea if his players look to attack first. “I know that's the basis for everything [but] the best thing is to defend with 10 offensive players because when you have the ball then it's much more likely that you will score.
“We conceded no counter-attacks on Friday again [against Arsenal]. They had no real chances apart from those five minutes. We can't ignore that, but apart from that we created a lot and that's how football should be. We have a defending approach. There's nobody on the pitch who is not involved with defending.”
Defending from the front. Defending by pressing high. Defending by depriving the opponent of the ball. All are legitimate aspects of defence; legitimate approaches to it. None, though, tend to be the things fans and pundits think of first when defending gets brought up—then it’s fullback positioning and set piece defending.
In those five minutes against Arsenal, Liverpool’s press became ragged, allowing their opponents to get forward in numbers and create one-on-one opportunities against Liverpool’s defenders. In those five minutes, Liverpool lost control too quickly and easily when they did have the ball, conceding possession.
The rest of the way, as Klopp saw it, they defended well—even if many looking on would say that the rest of the way, Liverpool didn’t actually do a lot of defending. Whether one is able to see eye-to-eye with Klopp on what defending actually is, then, it’s at least informative as insight into how he defines it.
“The goals were not because players weren't defending,” he added. “The goals came because we let them cross, which happens in a football game. We let them shoot, and that also happens in a football game. We have to perform to get a result as Liverpool, we can't always sit deep and defend with 10 players.
“That doesn't work at Anfield and to be honest doesn't work anywhere else, so we need to be creative in a few moments. I have spoken about consistency of performance. Result wise, we can improve. We can improve performance of course, but we are performing consistently at a relatively high level.”