They are two of the most exciting managerial installations in recent years. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola have been a breath of fresh air in the league bringing two very different footballing philosophies to the Premier League.
They have already been flexing their creative powers as displayed by both side’s ability to score goals and humiliate the opposition. In particular, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva have shone for City, while Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have led the way for Liverpool, but both clubs are exceptionally weak in one key area.
Their defences are far too poor to allow either side to realistically challenge for the title.
City have conceded 30 goals in the league this season, which averages out at 1.07 goals per game, while Liverpool have been beaten 36 times, which comes out at 1.24 goals per game. Compare this to Chelsea, who have conceded just 21 goals, averaging out at a 0.75 goals conceded per game.
All three sides have been scoring frequently, but it is Chelsea’s ability to win a game by scoring a single goal and not conceding that sets them apart from the other two. This ability to keep clean sheets has seen the Blues extend their lead at the top to 10 points, while a spot in next season’s Champions League is not yet assured for Liverpool or City.
But when Middlesbrough, a team that is 19th in the league, has conceded around the same amount of goals as a team in the top six, you know there is a problem.
It all begins between the sticks for both sides. For City, it started with the treatment of Joe Hart which was incredibly well documented by the press, with the former goalkeeping talisman the high profile omission from Guardiola’s first squad.
While Hart has conceded 48 goals with Torino this season, he is definitely having a better time of things than Claudio Bravo who has become somewhat of an internet sensation:
If Claudio Bravo Was A Dog! pic.twitter.com/o1pudeP7tz
— Premier League (@PremlerIeague) March 3, 2017
Bravo has not been a hit in England, and he has been replaced by Willy Caballero, a man that has second-choice goalkeeper written all over him. For Liverpool. their inability to field a goalkeeper that can do the simple things right is costing them each game week, so the less said about either goalkeeper the better.
However, their real problems manifest themselves in front of the goalkeeper.
The wing-backs are less a part of their struggles as the modern full-back is more like a winger than a defender, with stopping attacks more of an afterthought these days. Indeed, for both sides, it is the inability of any of their centre-halves to actually defend, and what makes it worse is that they are allowed to get away with this by their managers.
Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klaven will not win any prizes for being the best defenders in the Premier League. In fact, purely on their defensive ability, none of them would be out of place in a lower Premier League side or with a Championship team.
Of course, they do have the ability to have good games, but the likes of Gary Cahill and Toby Alderweireld are currently among the best defenders in the league because they can defend, and they do it consistently.
This inability to defend has seen every defender come in for criticism with John Stones in particular targeted for his £50million price tag:
Manchester City paid £50m for John Stones.. pic.twitter.com/2vBmNE7YR9
— Ryan 🔴 (@Mkhi_Assist) March 15, 2017
Of course, all the blame cannot simply go to the defenders, the managers are the ones enabling this headless chicken approach at the back as they both seem to subscribe to the theory that scoring goals always wins games. This doesn’t work when they are outscored though, a la Manchester City’s 3-1 loss to Monaco, and Liverpool’s embarrassing 3-2 defeat at the hands of Swansea recently.
Perhaps then, it is the fact that every team in the Premier League has the ability to attack and score goals that is stumping both managers. This season, Klopp’s side have already conceded 36 goals, while Guardiola’s men have conceded 30.
In his final season at Bayern Munich, Guardiola’s team conceded just 17 goals, while in Klopp’s final full season as manager of Borussia Dortmund, his side conceded 42 goals.
For Guardiola nothing has really changed philosophy wise. It is likely that his dependance on his team’s ability to keep the ball and attack is being put under more pressure by the more combative and counter-attacking style of his Premier League opponents.
For Klopp, conceding goals is not a new experience. At Dortmund, Klopp had the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score goals, but now he is currently 29 games into the season and does not know who his preferred striker is.
It is of course possible to win titles by scoring goals, but this must be supplemented by an ability to score three or more goals a game if they are to continually outscore their opponents, whereas both sides average around two goals a game.
A quick look at the top teams across Europe will tell show that Juventus have conceded 19 times, Bayern Munich 13, Benfica 13 and of course, Chelsea 21. Real Madrid have conceded 28 times but scored 71 goals, while Monaco have picked the ball out of their net 26 times but scored 87 times.
The game the two battled in on the weekend displayed the depth of their problems. It was a pulsating affair with chances at both ends and scintillating attacking play, but neither defended well at all. It has become a hallmark of both sides that they will give the opposition a number of chances to score, something that the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, Real Madrid, Barcelona and, indeed Monaco, will all take advantage of.
If Klopp and Guardiola really want to win titles with their clubs and then push on towards European glory, then they either have to find a way to defend properly, or, they need to hope that their forwards never have an off day.
But how much could Klopp fetch in the summer transfer window for his team of ‘nearly men’?