Liverpool’s ‘back to basics’ hint offers Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez clue

Liverpool didn’t have the most encouraging campaign last season, dropping back to third in the Premier League and generally struggling from the Christmas period onwards, with injuries in the centre of defence proving decisive. The impacts of losing the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez cannot be underestimated, but Jürgen Klopp’s worst moment of the season happened with the duo on the field.

It was October 2020 and the Reds had started the opening weeks of the new campaign relatively well, before a dramatic 7-2 loss to Aston Villa materialised at Villa Park, with Ollie Watkins bagging a hat-trick. The claret and blue outfit benefited from some good fortune at certain points, but Liverpool were far from their usual selves without the ball, allowing their opponents to muster 18 shots from just 285 passes.

Pep Lijnders’ pre-season diary has been an interesting development around the club this summer, with the Dutchman — who is Klopp’s no.2 — stating that the Reds will go ‘back to basics’ before the season’s opening game in the middle of August. His words are open to interpretation, but it will be intriguing to see how Liverpool develop on the defensive side of the game given the players who are returning from injury and the team’s tactical approach last season.

Liverpool employed a high-risk defensive game last year, emulating the likes of Bayern Munich. That risk has gradually been increased year-on-year as a means of constantly evolving. The defensive line has crept higher, the players have matured and the offside trap has been used more and more alongside the introduction of VAR, with such technology meaning that any opponent who runs offside is guaranteed to be caught.

When Liverpool’s defensive game works, it can result in total dominance from start to finish through the application of futuristic attacking football, but the match against Villa showed the downsides when such a daring approach goes wrong, as it can result in heavy losses materialising.

Klopp and Lijnders will work on every department this summer as they look to fine tune the team, but the ‘back to basics’ comment made by the latter could signal that Liverpool are going to tone down their defensive risk ever so slightly. With Van Dijk and Gomez returning from injury and Ibrahima Konaté in the process of being integrated as a new player, perhaps it makes sense for the Reds to ease their way into the season rather than immediately opting for full throttle.

The high-risk nature of Liverpool’s game will no doubt return before too long, but the Reds could be about to step back over the next few months as a means of moving forward.

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