Weekend Post (South Africa)

Crucial game for Reds

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LIVERPOOL have a fine record against the Premier League’s leading sides this season, which is just about the only solace for Jurgen Klopp as he prepares for today’s crucial clash with Arsenal.

The Reds’ 3-1 defeat at Leicester on Monday exposed significan­t defensive weaknesses once again as a campaign that once promised much continued to unravel. Liverpool, top of the league briefly in November, will start the weekend in fifth place, and could be sixth by kick-off, as Manchester United will move above them by beating Bournemout­h in today’s early game.

Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3 formation has been excellent against the rest of the current top six – in eight matches this season against Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United, Liverpool have won four and drawn four.

However, they have fallen short against teams in the lower half of the table.

Klopp has not been helped by a lack of stability in central defence, with Dejan Lovren absent for the last month with a knee injur y.

Midfielder Lucas Leiva was paired with Joel Matip in the centre of defence at Leicester, and proved incapable of dealing with the pace of Jamie Vardy.

Even with Lovren fit, though, defence has been a problem for the manager, who has used 20 different centre-back combinatio­ns during his 17 months in charge.

There is one other sobering statistic for Klopp to consider; after 55 matches in charge, he has amassed 94 points, three fewer than his predecesso­r Brendan Rodgers had managed at the same stage of his reign.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is trying to stay positive, saying: “You can use criticism as some sort of energy to get yourselves back up again and push yourselves even further and harder, looking forward to the next opportunit­y. That’s what we have to do.”

At Arsenal the issue of Arsene Wenger’s future continues to drag on into March, with the Frenchman yet to confirm whether he will extend his 21-year stay beyond the end of the season.

The 67-year-old has announced he will make a decision with both his own and his club’s interests at heart.

“My preference is always to remain the same,” he said. “I’m not looking for jobs at other clubs, I’m just focused on me getting to the next level and trying to improve.

“I’ve been here 20 years and I have had many chances to leave. So I don’t have to convince you my preference is always Arsenal.” –AFP

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