MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Liverpool’s 5-0 loss to Manchester City on Saturday can be written off as the consequence of a contested red card that left Juergen Klopp’s team down to 10 men for nearly an hour, but that cannot totally mask some worryingly familiar failings.
While Klopp focused his critical words on his forwards’ inability to create enough and take their opportunities, it was the performance at the other end that will be causing Liverpool fans most concern.
Klopp had targeted Southampton’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk during the transfer window but was unable to get his club to agree to a deal.
He may yet regret not abandoning that goal and finding another central defender.
On Saturday, with Dejan Lovren not fully fit, Estonian Ragnar Klavan partnered Joel Matip in the centre of defence and the pairing was far from convincing.
City prised open the Liverpool defence far too easily with simple through balls on the ground, through the middle, feeding the always dangerous Sergio Aguero.
That was the route that brought the opening goal, when the two teams still had a full contingent of players on the field, when Kevin De Bruyne split open the defence and the Argentine finished with ease.
Then, after the red card, De Bruyne floated in a cross from the left which Gabriel Jesus headed home. A reprieve came from the visitors in the form of the linesman’s flag but minutes later, the warning proved to be unheeded as the exact same method produced the same result - a Jesus header and the game effectively over at 2-0.
After the break, Klopp moved midfielder Emre Can into a central back-three but Liverpool were also struggling in the wide positions.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, the 18-year-old right back, struggled at times, and there is a lack of experience in that position where the alternative, Joe Gomez, is only 20.
Klopp is clearly keen to blood some young players but perhaps the solid and dependable James Milner may yet again prove to be a decent option.
The question marks over Liverpool’s defence arose again on the opening day of the season when they were far too leaky in a 3-3 draw at Watford.
But a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace and then the exhilarating 4-0 win over Arsenal put those concerns out of mind as the attacking trio, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, sparkled.
With the addition of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made his debut as a second-half sub at the Etihad, and the impending return to the side of Brazilian Philippe Coutinho, there is enough quality in the midfield and attack to keep Liverpool in the top four.
But it will need a much tighter and more alert back line if Klopp is to get Liverpool even close to the title they have now been without for 27 years.
Reporting by Simon Evans,; Editing by Neville Dalton