It all started so positively for Liverpool. Up against a Chelsea team struggling to find their feet on the opening day of the season, Jurgen Klopp’s side were in the mood for goals. With the sun beating down on Stamford Bridge, the promise of a new season sowed hope in the hearts of the Reds fans who had made the trip to west London.
Mohamed Salah cracked the bar with a curling right-footed effort, Dominic Szoboszlai weaved his way through the Chelsea midfield with ease, Alexis Mac Allister was dictating play from midfield — all was going well.
The opening goal inevitably came. A sweeping move saw Mac Allister feed Salah, who in turn sent a delightful cross-field pass into the path of Luis Diaz, the Colombian’s sliding finish sending the travelling support into raptures.
When Salah had the ball in the net 10 minutes later, it looked like it was to be a comfortable afternoon for Liverpool, but a VAR review for offside put a pin in the visitor’s joy.
From that moment onwards, Chelsea grew in confidence, and after Axel Disasi drew the scores level, the home side began to dictate the game. For all Liverpool’s attacking verve, they were being carved open at will. Raheem Sterling was finding pockets of space between the lines, as Reece James and Ben Chilwell bombed up the channels.
Despite a strong attacking start, it didn’t take long for Liverpool’s defensive frailties to be laid bare. Having lost Fabinho to the Saudi Pro League this summer, the club no longer have a specialist defensive midfielder, and this lack of protection was exposed by Mauricio Pochettino’s Blues.
Liverpool have been desperately trying to bring in a defensive midfielder, but their efforts have so far been foiled, with Moises Caicedo opting for Stamford Bridge over Anfield, and a move for Romeo Lavia seems to be up in the air at the time of writing.
But whether or not Liverpool do secure the services of a defensive midfielder between now and the end of the transfer window, they’re going to need to find a balance between defence and attack if they’re to establish themselves as contenders in the Premier League winner odds.
Too often at Stamford Bridge, it felt like Liverpool were two halves of a team as opposed to a whole. Mac Allister was deployed in the deep-lying midfield role, and while he enjoyed a good game, his skillset is not suited to providing the kind of defensive cover Liverpool need.
One wonders if, had Fabinho been present in Liverpool’s midfield against Chelsea, they would have come away from west London with all three points.
There is also a clear need for another centre-back to come through the Anfield doors before the window is out. Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate make up a solid partnership, but the drop-off in quality to backup options Joel Matip and Joe Gomez is significant. Indeed, the specialist role Konate plays in covering for the roaming Trent Alexander-Arnold is not one suited to any of the other three defenders.
There’s no doubting Liverpool will score goals this season, and plenty of them. They have far too much quality high up the pitch for these defensive shortcomings to cost them a challenge for Europe. But in a season when many were expecting the club to bounce back and challenge Manchester City for the title, Klopp’s side currently looks to be a few pieces short of the completed jigsaw.