The curse of Benitez: An un-defendable seven years.

Yesterday’s loss to Swansea had a sense of the inevitable.

For over the course of a season, more often than not, footballing equilibrium is restored through sobering moments like this.  

I was inside the Emirates Stadium in August when Liverpool blew Arsenal away with four fantastic goals, yet proceeded to give three away themselves in the same 90 minutes.  

There have also been less glamorous, goal filled, victories over the league’s lesser teams, all without keeping a cleansheet. Hull, Crystal Palace, Watford and Stoke have all been on the receiving end of four plus Liverpool goals, yet have all managed to score.

However, whether it is Arsenal or Hull, home or away, three points is three points. There are no additional prizes given for not conceding. Such shortcomings can be easily overlooked by fans and coaches alike.

What cannot be overlooked are results against Burnley (2-0), Bournemouth (4-3), West Ham (2-2), Sunderland (2-2) and now rock bottom Swansea (2-3). Games in which, excluding Burnley, Liverpool should have scored enough goals to take all three points.

This inability to win games in which Liverpool have scored 2 or 3 is why Chelsea have the chance of going 10 points clear of them today. So far this season Chelsea have conceded 15 times, Klopp’s side have picked the ball out of the net nearly twice as much.

But this defensive weakness is nothing new.

In every season since Rafael Benitez left the club in 2010, Liverpool have conceded 40+ goals per season.

During his six seasons with the club, Benitez’s sides’ conceded 41, 25, 27, 28, 27 and 35 in the Premier League, a total of 183. In the six campaigns following his departure, up until the end of last season, Liverpool conceded 275 goals, finishing inside the top four only once.

The Premier League has undoubtedly changed since Benitez took Liverpool to 5th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 2nd and 7th.  The club too has changed, saying goodbye to defensive stalwarts including Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and to a much lesser extent Martin Skrtel.

But what has really been done to address the issue of conceding too many goals?

Under Rodgers and Klopp Liverpool have prioritised attacking. Alongside Dalglish before them, they’ve recruited some excellent forward players including Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Lallana, Firmino and Mane. These names are the best of a mixed bag which also included Balotelli, Carroll and Benteke.

Their defensive purchases have been far less encouraging, including Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.

Lovren has come to typify the consistent inconsistency of Liverpool’s defence since Benitez’s departure. Excellent last week against Man Utd, woeful yesterday against Swansea.

The fact that James Milner has been converted to a left back is a damning indictment of Moreno. Klavan is a cheap reserve, too often call upon, similar to Toure before him.  Sakho possesses the physical attributes to be a first class defender but lacks the mentality required to dominate a defence. His off the field issues as costly as his lapses in concentration on it.

Only Nathaniel Clyne and Joel Matip have made reliable contributions to Liverpool’s defence since their purchase, both with the potential to be top Premier League players.

Goalkeeping has also been a major problem.

Neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius have come close to replacing Pepe Reina. The goalkeeping saga at Liverpool has rumbled on since his departure in 2013.

The sum total of transfer fees paid for these defenders and goalkeepers (Clyne, Karius, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Mignolet, Moreno, Sakho, Toure) by Rodgers and Klopp is £80.4m.

Over the same transfer windows these two managers also spent £184.25m on Iago Aspas, Mario Balotelli, Christian Benteke, Fabio Borini, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Lazar Markovic and Divok Origi.  

£104m more than they spent on attempting to fix the side’s obvious defensive frailties.

Perhaps this is obvious. Attackers are generally more expensive than defenders. They are the prized assets of football teams. They are the players which excite fans when transfer windows open.

The comparison also includes an anomaly, the best defender brought in to the club cost nothing.

However, as a general look at the efforts of these two managers to bring about real defensive change at Liverpool it doesn’t make for positive reading. Only one of the four most expensive defensive purchases, Nathaniel Clyne, is deemed good enough by most.

Why have these managers not spent more on recruiting defenders and goalkeepers of a suitable standard? And why have their purchases, more often than not, proved to be no better than their predecessors?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but as Rafa once said “These are the facts”.

There is no doubt that Liverpool have made strides under Jurgen Klopp. A finish inside the top four this season would mark a distinct improvement; only their second top four finish since 2009.

There are clearly positives to be taken. Liverpool can be hugely entertaining, they are yet to be beaten by one of the top six this season, but they remain plagued by issues which have haunted them since the departure of Benitez seven years ago.

Over the last ten seasons, the average number of goals conceded by the title winners has been 32 goals. Klopp’s side are five goals shy of this total after only 22 games this season.

If Klopp is to take Liverpool to that illusive 19th league title, whenever it may be, he must do what Rodgers could not and stop Liverpool conceding so often.

Yesterday’s result was a brutal reminder of that.