Jürgen Klopp just unleashed foursome who can push Liverpool to glory for first time in months

Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté have a great record together this season
Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté have a great record together this season -Credit:Photo by Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images

Liverpool’s squad is so strong that there will never be complete agreement over which 11 men would make up the strongest possible side if everyone were available. Even without inevitable injuries, form fluctuations lead to inevitable rotation, so the idea of a dream XI can only ever be a concept.

History proves it. The side Jürgen Klopp selected for the 2019 Champions League final had never started together before and never did afterward. Yet on paper, it looks almost impossible to pick a better group of 11 Reds players in that era.

If we focus on the defense this season, the quartet who faced Atalanta in Bergamo looks to be the best available to Klopp: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konaté, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson. They proved their collective mettle by recording just the third clean sheet Liverpool have kept in the Premier or Europa League in 2024, albeit Atalanta didn’t need to score thanks to its handsome Anfield win.

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If the Reds are to defy their current position of third favorites and win the 2023/24 Premier League, keeping this back four intact for the final six matches is of paramount importance. The combination of Konaté and van Dijk has played 18 full matches in all competitions this season, and the equivalent of 21.6 games in total. Liverpool has conceded less than a goal per game — one every 93 minutes — with the duo, a slight improvement on its record with other combinations.

But as the Atalanta game hinted, this central defensive pairing works well when accompanied at the back by the first choice full-backs. Remarkably, the match on Thursday was just the third in 2023/24 in which Liverpool began with this foursome in defense. The other examples were the first two games of the campaign, in which the Reds failed to keep clean sheets against Chelsea and Bournemouth but did collect four points.

Fitness problems for the full-backs explain a lot of why this premium quartet has not featured more. Robertson has missed 22 matches while Alexander-Arnold has been absent for 19, markedly more games than either Konaté (six) or van Dijk (two) have lost to injury. In a lot of cases, they were not overly missed, with Conor Bradley emerging as a very capable deputy on the right and Joe Gomez performing well on the opposite flank (though not offering the same creative threat as the first-choice left-back).

But the first choice four have provided the foundation for many of Liverpool’s best wins since Konaté joined the club in the summer of 2021. Even though the goals conceded column will always be relevant, consider some of the potent attacking performances they enabled.

The quartet’s first match starting together was the 5-0 win at Manchester United — a game which saw Alexander-Arnold provide an assist and Konaté laugh in the face of Fred. Later that season, they also played in the fantastic FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City as well as Champions League knockout phase wins over Benfica in which Ibou scored from a Robertson assist — and Villarreal (both home and away).

In 2022/23, the famous four were at the back as the forwards tore United to shreds in a 7-0 win. They also played most of the games once the inversion of Alexander-Arnold into midfield began in earnest in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. He provided an assist in that game and the next three in which the quartet started together too.

Their collective record is far from flawless, with defeats to Real Madrid and Bournemouth frustrating in different ways. But this backline had a streak of seven consecutive wins together in 2021/22; a similar run starting at Atalanta could yet carry Liverpool to a 20th league title.

Liverpool.com says: Liverpool has gone behind far too often this season but it's fair to assume that would have happened less frequently had the best back four been available more often. With the full-backs able to pin back and occupy opposition wide forwards and midfielders, their offensive work eases pressure on the central defensive pair. It's a system that works and hopefully, it can now see out the rest of Klopp's tenure.