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Reds need to revive the MEAN machine.

Byline: IAN DOYLE Chief LFC Writer ian.doyle@reachplcr.com @IANDOYLESPORT

EVERYBODY knows goalscorers can often work in streaks, going certain spells without netting and then suddenly rattling home in consecutive games.

Michael Owen was a prominent example during his time at Liverpool, while presently Roberto Firmino is similar if not quite as prolific.

But what the Reds have discovered this season is such sequences can also apply to defending.

How else to explain a topsy-turvy record at the back that has proven the basis of their Premier League title challenge but also cost them in other competitions? From the start of the season, including the Community Shield, Liverpool kept only three clean sheets in their first 11 games.

Not particularly great, but understandable given the backline had to cope with new signing Adrian being thrust into a debut just days after arriving at Anfield once Alisson Becker limped out of the Premier League opener against Norwich City.

However, not even the return of Alisson in October could stem the next leaky sequence.

Between October 2 and December 4, Liverpool played 13 games in all competitions without keeping a clean sheet. It was their worst such run since 1992.

There was some mitigation, with Jurgen Klopp using three different goalkeepers and four different centreback pairings during that period. The lack of shut-outs, though, wasn't hurting the team in terms of results. Indeed, even conceding five at home to Arsenal in the League Cup couldn't prevent the Reds progressing on penalties.

But Liverpool's leakiness was increasing the pressure on the forward line.

The turning point for the defence came in the 3-0 win at Bournemouth just three days after the rollercoaster 5-2 derby home win over Everton - a game that ensured Klopp's side created a new unwanted club record of having gone 12 games at Anfield from the start of the season without keeping a clean sheet.

Ignoring the League Cup defeat at Aston Villa when the senior squad was in Qatar preparing for the FIFA Club World Cup, Liverpool went on to concede just one goal in 11 games, a run that was extended to four in 17 outings.

It included a sequence of seven consecutive Premier League clean sheets, a run bettered by only five teams in the history of the competition. Matters began to unravel, however, in the Wanda Metropolitano last month with Saul Niguez's early strike, the first of 12 goals Liverpool would concede in six games before football was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

It contributed to the Reds losing their last three away games in all competitions - defeat in their next one would be their worst such run since January 2011.

That Adrian, back in goal for the again injured Alisson, was responsible for conceding the first goal in the FA Cup and Champions League defeats to Chelsea and Atletico did not pass unnoticed. But it's clear there is more than one reason for the loss of defensive resolve, Liverpool missing the injured Jordan Henderson in midfield while Fabinho attempted to play his way back to fitness after his own lengthy absence. Liverpool have been transformed defensively since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, and the reshuffle in midfield.

And with no team having conceded fewer Premier League goals so far this season, the Reds will at least be working from a position of strength. However, Klopp will be aware there remains room for improvement - both in the remainder of this season and beyond.

Recruitment, promotion from the Academy and tactical tweaks will all forge part of the short and long-term plan. Klopp will be keen to make his team mean once more.

CAPTION(S):

Liverpool's defensive inconsistency hit a new low when they conceded three golas against Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last 16 defeat on March 11 ANDREW POWELL/LFC/GETTY
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Author:IAN DOYLE Chief LFC Writer ian.doyle@reachplcr.com @IANDOYLESPORT
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2020
Words:642
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