Ragnar Klavan

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Klopp’s reliance on top CB pair nothing new, but a problem

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When Jurgen Klopp was hired at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he did something right away that would set the stage for BVB’s run back into Bundesliga power.

Klopp brought defender Neven Subotic with him from Mainz, and took Mats Hummels on loan from Bayern Munich.

The 19-year-old Subotic played 38 times for BVB that season, and Hummels played well on way to a permanent transfer.

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Largely, Klopp seemed to “set it and forget it” with his center backs from that point forward: No big summer buys, and neither Subotic nor Hummels was headed anywhere.

That didn’t change until 2013-14, when Klopp bought Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, adding Matthias Ginter the next season.

Klopp left BVB after a disappointing 2014-15, taking the job at Liverpool in October 2015.

He didn’t do much in January, but agreed to terms with Schalke center back Joel Matip in February and landed Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg in the summer. The Reds already had bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton in the Summer of 2014, and Klopp seemed set.

[ MORE: League Cup Weds. wrap ]

Lovren improved a lot with Matip next to him, and Klavan made just 15 appearances for the Reds last season. The Reds went hard at Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk, but failed to get him for any number of reasons. Still, Klopp figured his quartet, including young Joe Gomez in a pinch, would be just fine this season.

And maybe they will be, but there are daunting signs for the Reds in the first couple months of the season. Klopp has used Matip in eight matches, tied for the most on the team with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He’s used Lovren six times, and Klavan four.

Liverpool’s record by CB pair (admittedly a tiny sample size):

Matip-Lovren: 3W-2D
Matip-Klavan: 1W-1D-1L
Gomez-Klavan: 1L (today)

The center backs, sans Matip and Lovren, especially hurt the Reds in the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. All three moments of Leicester threat in this highlight package find either Klavan or Gomez cooked or out-of-place.

Look, a lot of teams are going to be hurt when using their second-choice CB pair, and many won’t be bothered by Liverpool’s exit from the League Cup. Furthermore, it’s not like anyone has been mistaking Lovren and Matip for Puyol and Pique.

But look at every English team in Europe, including the ones with far fewer defensive frailties heading into this summer than Liverpool.

Chelsea bought Antonio Rudiger.

Everton added Michael Keane.

Manchester United bought Victor Lindelof.

Spurs bought Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth.

Arsenal didn’t buy anyone besides Alexandre Lacazette, while Man City bought full backs and has received plenty of criticism for failing to add to its center back corps of Vincent Kompany, John Stones, and Eliaquim Mangala.

Liverpool? They sold Mamadou Sakho.

It’s problematic, yes, and it can’t be fixed until January. The question is whether Klopp sees a need to spend in the winter window. As illustrated above, he loves to ride his horses, even if Lovren and Matip aren’t quite Hummels and Subotic.

Think of what’s ailed Liverpool in recent seasons: Are some of those flops against lesser Premier League teams changed with more rest for their top pair or a better option for the mix?

Ragnar Klavan has neutralized Liverpool’s defensive woes

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Liverpool looked a title contender from the very start of the season, but one major flaw threatened to bring them down before they could mount a serious challenge to the Premier League crown.

The Reds conceded goals in bunches. At first, it didn’t cause a problem; two late goals in a 4-3 win over Arsenal on Opening Day, a goal past the hour mark in a 2-1 win over Chelsea, blowing two leads to Crystal Palace before putting them away late. But that trend wasn’t sustainable. Eventually, the defense would cost them points, and it began to.

Dejan Lovren lost Harry Kane, and lost two points against Spurs. The epic loss to Bournemouth featured a comedy of defensive errors that led to a historic collapse after holding a 3-1 lead with 20 minutes to go. They went up 1-0 to West Ham, only to conceded a pair, requiring a comeback to earn a point.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Matchweek 20 ]

After the Reds went down 2-1 to West Ham, Jurgen Klopp brought in Ragnar Klavan as a halftime substitute for Lovren.

The Estonian defender joined Liverpool this summer from FC Augsburg for $6 million, with Klopp using his intimate knowledge of the Bundesliga to pluck a value buy from a mid-table German side. Klavan rode the bench for much of October and November, as Lovren, Joel Matip, and occasionally Lucas stumbled their way around the defensive half.

Before Klavan entered against West Ham, Liverpool had three clean sheets in 14-1/2 matches. Since, they’ve conceded a single goal in 405 minutes. With opponents like Middlesbrough, Everton, and Stoke City, that streak wasn’t all that impressive.

Then Klavan and Liverpool shut out Manchester City and the Premier League took notice.

In that match, Pep Guardiola‘s bunch held 57% possession, out-passing Liverpool 461-306. But they were feeble in the attacking third, mustering just three successful passes in the Liverpool penalty area, with Klavan making seven clearances, completing three of four tackles, and man-marking Sergio Aguero on several occasions, holding the Argentinian without a touch in the penalty area.

Evaluating a single defender over a small sample size is difficult, and an uptick in form by Lovren has partially contributed, but it’s obvious that Klavan’s inclusion has made an enormous difference. With Matip out injured but expected to return shortly, it will be difficult for the Cameroonian to find his way back into a defensive line performing at a title-winning level.

Liverpool sign central defender Ragnar Klavan. How will he slot in?

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Liverpool have signed Estonian national team captain Ragnar Klavan from German side Augsburg.

Klavan, 30, joins Jurgen Klopp‘s side in a transfer deal worth $5.5 million, plus add-ons, and Liverpool say he has signed a “long-term” contract at Anfield which is believed to be for three years.

[ MORE: Kante key for new-look Chelsea

The imposing center back has played 112 times for Estonia and has made 140 appearances for Augsburg over the past four seasons.

Speaking to the club’s website, Klavan revealed his delight in signing for Liverpool.

“I’m really honored to be part of this amazing club, this amazing team,” Klavan said. “It’s hard to put it into words, because it’s been a dream of mine for 22 years to come to the Premier League and be a part of this amazing club, Liverpool. The Premier League is the most attractive league in the world and you always have amazing players here. This is the home of football.”

Klavan is now Klopp’s fifth signing of a busy summer at Anfield and follows Loris Karius, Joel Matip, Sadio Mane and Marko Grujic in bolstering an already bloated squad.

Three of Klopp’s five summer signings have come from the Bundesliga as the German coach has used his knowledge of his homeland to mine new talent.

[ MORE: Pogba to United inches closer ]

There’s something slightly under the radar about Klavan, Karius and Matip but it s clear Klopp wants to shore up a leaky Liverpool defense which conceded 50 times in 38 Premier League outings.

What does this mean for central defenders Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho? Well, the former will be worrying about his position as a starter, while the latter is out injured with an Achilles problem and will miss the start of the season.

With Martin Skrtel sold to Fenerbache, Kolo Toure out of contract and only youngsters Joe Gomez (also struggling with an injured Achilles) and Tiago Ilori able to slot in if needed at center back, it’s an area Klopp needed to strengthen and he has. Klavan seems like cover for Klopp’s first-choice duo of Lovren and Matip.

Klopp has now shipped out nine players for a total of $35 million this summer and with rumors regarding the futures of Christian Benteke, Joe Allen and Mario Balotelli continuing, there’s a bit more trimming up to do ahead of the new season.