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The reasons Klopp is persisting with Liverpool's high defensive line

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It was an integral part of how Liverpool secured their first Premier League title in 30 years with a club-record points haul; it permitted the Reds to confine their opponents to one half of the field, before generating wave after wave of attack until the net was eventually found, while affording very little at the opposite end.

This season, however, supporters of the club are becoming increasingly confused as to why Jurgen Klopp has persisted with his infamous high defensive line despite having weaker personnel at his disposal, given the long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez in particular.



Those three central defenders had the necessary qualities to cope while executing such a risky defensive game, with aerial strength, mobility, ability on the ball and general quality possessed in abundance by the trio.



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Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak are forming Klopp's current partnership, and while they have performed admirably, it is reasonable to suggest they are not quite as well-rounded and complete as those who they have temporarily replaced.



They appeared exposed against Real Madrid on Tuesday night, with many supporters suggesting that dropping deeper is an obvious solution to the problem at hand.

There is certainly logic behind that suggestion, but the Liverpool boss also has reasoning behind his decision to stick rather than twist.

Real Madrid's opening goal against Liverpool involved Toni Kroos playing a simple ball over the top

The same centre-back pairing formed the heart of Klopp's defensive line just three days earlier at the Emirates, and the Reds won by three goals to nil; the Gunners accumulated just five touches of the ball in the penalty box on the day, their lowest total in a league fixture since at least 2017.

Crucially, Liverpool amassed 16 shots on goal compared to the measly figure of three posted by Arsenal, with those numbers stemming from the high defensive line employed by the English champions, and that has largely been the case throughout the campaign.

It provides Klopp's men with the necessary platform to behave in an attacking manner by dominating, pressing high up the field and taking risks in possession with the awareness that the ball will simply be regained moments after being lost, and it usually restricts the opposition to few opportunities given the correlation between high pressing and fewer shots faced.

"We want to attack the opponent non-stop. When we have the ball, when we lose it and when the opposition have it," Klopp says.

Despite the struggles encountered by the team since the turn of the year, Liverpool still rank fourth in Europe's top five leagues this season for shots faced per match, with only Manchester City, RB Leipzig and Barcelona affording fewer.

Liverpool have the option of dropping deeper without the ball but as a consequence, they would probably face more shots which is naturally something that Klopp would want to avoid.

By dropping deeper, Phillips and Kabak would be less exposed by the open space in behind which is a definite perk, but they would also become busier, as the majority of the defensive work would no longer be taking place in the attacking third.

"It's not about the last line, it's about what you do in front of that," Klopp said after losing in the Spanish capital, and the difference between the two pressing performances against Arsenal and Madrid would offer support to that argument.

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Phillips and Kabak barely had to break a sweat when facing the Gunners, and that was mostly because of the flawless and efficient defensive endeavour that was showcased ahead of them by Fabinho, Thiago, James Milner and the usual offensive trident.

Klopp appears to be firmly of the belief that the high defensive line is not the source of the team's vulnerability, it is in fact the pressing ahead of that defensive line combined with the areas in which the ball is lost that stimulates the fragility.

It could be argued that the Liverpool boss should have temporarily altered aspects of his methods to compensate for the demands of pandemic-ball - as pressing as a whole is down across Europe this season - but in addition to managing those new and unprecedented challenges, he's also had to solve an ongoing injury crisis in the centre of his defence.

The 53 year-old German is not free from blame, but even though the last line of his defence has appeared naive and impractical at times, it has also proved to be an essential factor behind the team's best performances this season once connected with sensible decisions in possession and unified pressure against the ball.


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