Liverpool fixtures have come with a health warning to centre-backs this season.
Southampton 0 Liverpool 0
Amid the applause for the swashbuckling attacking of Jurgen Klopp’s side, there has been an epidemic of ‘tut-tutting’ from admirers of blood and guts defending – and Liverpool have been the targets as much as the opponents they have dismantled.
If there has been one consistent source of irritation to Klopp, it is the suggestion that he has built a side of cavaliers at the expense of his backline.
No one has yet explained to the Liverpool manager what comparisons to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle mean, but should he receive the briefing he will be furious.
The notion of Liverpool’s defence being a weak link offends him and, with the greatest respect to Keegan’s great entertainers of the mid-Nineties, referencing them because Klopp’s side create chances and score goals, while conceding a few, demonstrates there are those who are not paying enough attention.
Although Liverpool did not beat Southampton on Saturday – a fact which owed as much to the excellence of the home side’s organisation as wasted chances – Klopp felt the security of his back four deserved equal recognition.
“We are not weak in defending. If you want to say this, do it, I don’t care. I know we aren’t,” said Klopp.
“Look how we defend, how Dejan (Lovren) and Joel (Matip) defended these counter-attacks. I didn’t see much better. There was no counter-attack, they were always quick, always there.
“My favourite situation in the game was when Nathan Redmond or whoever was there and there were four players from Liverpool and one player from Southampton.
“We got the ball back and I couldn’t see another Southampton player. That’s what we have to do. Take the ball again and try again.”
Matip, especially, already looks an extraordinary signing. Each time he plays you wonder how it is that so few Champions League clubs challenged Liverpool for his signature.
How could Pep Guardiola allow Manchester City to add digits to their John Stones bids when he must have seen this gem in the Bundesliga, available on a free transfer?
Lovren was also more calm than on his last visit to his former club, and, in truth, he has been proving himself worth his considerable fee ever since Klopp became manager.
Naturally, it was Southampton’s centre-halves who had more to do than Liverpool’s and thus claimed more plaudits.
The Southampton supporters began the afternoon yelling at Lovren, the Croatian not forgiven for leaving St Mary’s in the manner he did, but by the end the question was how long before Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte become the next targets of significant bids.
There are not too many more accomplished centre-half pairings in the Premier League. Van Dijk and Fonte relished the opportunity to become only the third side to stop Liverpool scoring in this campaign.
It was a high-class contest despite the lack of goals, with the Southampton duo successfully repelling the visitors in the first-half, but relying more on fortune in the second.
Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Nathaniel Clyne had the opportunities to secure the victory, as Liverpool ground out plenty of chances without being allowed the fluency that has become their trademark.
Not for the first time this season, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius was a spectator. In truth, he has barely had a shot to save since he broke into the first team and will be more bemused than anyone if suggestions that Liverpool’s defensive shield is suspect persist.
Southampton offered nothing in attack aside from a Charlie Austin header that was just off target.
For Liverpool to come here, dominate, and feel disappointed not to win underlined how rapidly their expectations are expanding.
“The players are really disappointed – much more disappointed than I am,” said Klopp.
When a draw away to a fine Southampton side is greeted with mild deflation, there is not much wrong.
© Daily Telegraph, London.