With or without Coutinho, Liverpool will win nothing if they don't improve their defence - Goal.com

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With or without Coutinho, Liverpool will win nothing if they don't improve their defence

Aug 12, 2017 10:16:46 AMEngland
The Reds conceded at the death at Vicarage Road in a showing that once again highlighted the need to iron out their defensive frailties
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The opening fixture usually invites a flood of excitement over the players that make up a club’s first matchday of the season.

For Liverpool, it was the names not included and the ones they have failed to recruit that hijacked the spotlight in a 3-3 draw at Watford, in which their old problems waved a big hello to kick off the new campaign.

Liverpool 25/1 to win Champions League

Liverpool fan

An exhilarating attack being undone by brain farts at the back is a familiar theme for the Reds, who can inexplicably beat the opposition goalkeeper thrice and still not be guaranteed of maximum points.

Philippe Coutinho, agitating for a move to Barcelona by submitting a transfer request and unavailable through a back injury on Saturday, was undoubtedly a massive miss at Vicarage Road. Liverpool were in desperate need of his creativity and incisiveness in midfield, especially with Adam Lallana also sidelined through a more serious thigh complaint.

The home fans taunted their counterparts with a chorus of ‘Where is Coutinho?’ as a reminder that they were not as threatening without him, and pointedly, that he feels he is too good to be playing for them.

In truth, though, with or without his stardust, the Merseysiders cannot consider themselves serious contenders if they do not sharpen up defensively. While Watford fans sang about the Brazilian, a large section of Liverpool’s tweeted about Virgil van Dijk.

HD Watford Liverpool

The pursuit of the Southampton centre-back was publicly ended in June after a tapping-up scandal, but with the player having officially pushed for an exit and following more evidence of defensive frailties, the desire to see him anchoring the rearguard will only intensify.

It is an area Liverpool must fortify, while also adding to midfield and sticking to their "definitive stance" that Coutinho will remain at Anfield when the window closes.

Jurgen Klopp’s insistence that his side were completely ready for the switch from warm-up fixtures to the competitive stuff was exposed by a first half that was too passive, predictable and ponderous from the visitors.

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Bar Sadio Mane’s determination to instruct the manager’s “simple and quick” rule, which led to the Senegal international creating and finishing Liverpool’s equaliser after Stefani Okaka opened the scoring, they looked decidedly average before the interval and invited Watford to exploit their weaknesses.

Marco Silva’s men obliged, first undoing their opponents through a set-piece to little shock. Jose Holebas swung in a corner from the right, which Okaka was allowed to attack under no pressure, and his header went in off Simon Mignolet.

"The first one, in our specific situation everyone will say it was clear because it was a set piece, but it was a good cross and a good run," Klopp explained afterwards. "One of [our players] didn’t close the gap so he could not run. We have to work on it, no doubt."

Just before the half-hour mark, Mane reminded Liverpool of their stylistic identity by picking up possession, passing to Alberto Moreno, dummying for Emre Can and moving to receive the ball in a decisive position.

The German supplied the speedster, who controlled well before opening up his body to finish superbly in the top-right corner.

HD Sadio Mane

The beauty of that play was quickly undone by brainlessness at the other end. Watford created down their right after Nordin Amrabat outmuscled Moreno to win a loose ball. He fed it to Doucoure, who found Cleverley in space. The French midfielder darted forward and profited from a cross that pinged around the six-yard box before falling for him to convert and restore Watford’s lead.

"The second goal was unlucky and a formation problem," Klopp said. "Alberto lost the challenge, which can happen obviously – maybe it was a foul or not, I’m not sure – there was a gap open, they played a pass and I thought it was offside, I’m not sure if it was.

"They passed the ball in our box, we defended the first time but then struck the ball against our own legs so that makes it a little bit unlucky."

After the break, Mohamed Salah - robbed of service and ineffective during the opening 45 minutes of his league debut for Liverpool, charged into life.

HD Mohamed Salah Roberto Firmino Liverpool

On 54 minutes, his sprint in the area drew a foul from Heurelho Gomes and a penalty, which Roberto Firmino stuck to continue his solid form from the spot.

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Liverpool’s equaliser invigorated the side and two minutes later, the Brazilian applied a masterful touch to take Dejan Lovren’s ball over the top, before chipping in a pass towards Salah.

The Egyptian made it count on his competitive bow, but he could have had a hat-trick having taken up intelligent positions. He wasn’t the only wasteful one in a red shirt and Liverpool will not have issues creating chances this season, they just need to stop constructing problems for themselves at the back.

That was evident at the death, when despite valid claims for offside, Liverpool were everywhere and nowhere as Miguel Britos forced the ball in off Mignolet following a scramble to secure a point.

"We scored two wonderful goals in the second half, it was really good, we had our moments and then we conceded an offside goal," Klopp despaired. 

"That’s really not fun, it’s difficult to accept. It feels not too good, but we know we can do better and have to do better."


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