As the Premier League season recently reached the halfway point, no manager will have been pondering its highs and lows more than Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp. His sobering period of reflection during the World Cup break would have surely involved wondering how his side went from fighting for the quadruple last season, to now dwelling in the mid-table. Vinay Patel joins the German manager in questioning this decline.
While many had hoped that the break would lead to an improvement in results, Liverpool have seemingly gone from bad to worse, crashing out of both cups and failing to register three points this calendar year until the recent Merseyside derby. With the chances of European football next season ebbing away, this article aims to uncover the misfortune and rapid decline at Liverpool Football Club.
The Reds participated in every game possible last season, amounting to 63, matched only by Chelsea, who they bested twice to claim both domestic trophies. Liverpool were just two games away from making history, however, a remarkable Man City comeback against Aston Villa on the final day of the 22/23 Premier League season and some magic from Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr. denied the Merseyside club of an unprecedented ‘quadruple’.
Working tirelessly towards such a revered prize, only to be denied over a period of mere days, is likely to result in a physical and mental burnout, as seen in this season’s performances. This was not aided by a shortened summer break due to the controversial winter World Cup, effectively reducing the Reds’ recuperation time.
Liverpool are no strangers to an injury crisis
Liverpool have displayed countless laboured performances this season but coupled with it seems to be a lack of desire, as reflected in the league table. The word ‘desire’ can only be epitomised through Sadio Mané, who has been sorely missed by Jurgen Klopp this season following his move to Bayern Munich over the summer.
His ability to press high up the pitch is one that has not yet been replicated by the Reds’ current forwards, making his departure that much more noticeable. Nevertheless, while this is a factor that could explain a sudden collapse of form over the past six months, it cannot serve as the root of the existing issues at Liverpool FC.
Liverpool are no strangers to an injury crisis but seem to have fallen victim for the second time in the last three years. At the heart of defence, Klopp has been forced to name well over a dozen different centre back partnerships, worsened only by a spell on the sidelines for the ever-present Virgil van Dijk. The Reds have also had to cope without forwards Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, and Luis Diaz, the latter of whom picked up yet another long-term injury upon his return to first team training. This, of course, led to the signing of Cody Gakpo from PSV, who has already been tasked with filling a large void in a small amount of time.
As well as an injury crisis, Jurgen Klopp has also been burdened with a sizeable midfield dilemma. It has been said time and again that games are won and lost in the midfield, and this could not be truer in the German’s case. The midfield can only be described as the beating heart of Klopp’s high press, often consisting of Jordan Henderson, Thiago, and Fabinho.
Fabinho remains a shadow of his former self
The drive and passion that the Liverpool skipper once brought onto the pitch seems to have dissipated, hampered by the decline that seems to have taken effect since his 32nd birthday. Once the defensive lynchpin of Liverpool’s midfield and the league’s best holding midfielder, Fabinho remains a shadow of his former self and merely a passenger in this midfield.
Injuries in the midfield have paved the way for promising talent Harvey Elliott, whose unflinching spirit should not be confused with the unfortunate reality that his natural position is not in midfield, but further up the pitch.
As a whole, Liverpool’s midfield are conceding a heinously uncharacteristic number of chances, piling the pressure on the back line that is already positioned further up the pitch in comparison to most sides. Individuals such as Trent Alexander-Arnold have not been afforded the cover from the likes of Henderson, leaving them massively exposed.
Even the defensive stalwart Virgil van Dijk has had to do more defending than ever and is arguably having his worst season in a Liverpool shirt. A midfield that seldom gifted offensive outlets to the opposition, is quickly becoming one that does so repeatedly and is among the countless easy exploits which opposition have exposed this season. This ageing midfield is one that needs rebuilding quickly and is surely among the greatest concerns for Jurgen Klopp.
Throughout Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool, he has always had the unwavering support of the fans. However, as the supposed ‘seven-year curse’ that sealed his fate at Borussia Dortmund, seems to have reared its ugly head again, the German has been the subject of some rare scrutiny from fans and media alike. Even the most diehard Kloppites have surely questioned what the German could be doing differently to avoid the same outcome.
A team that operates a high press, with a high back line has previously overcome the risk with handsome rewards but this has certainly not been the case this season. The word naivety comes to mind when watching a high back line attempt to deal with the copious chances conceded by the midfield.
The Reds have only recorded three goals in the Premier League in 2023
In addition to this, Klopp has spent most of the new year tinkering with the positions of new signings Darwin Núñez, Cody Gakpo, and how they line up alongside Mohamed Salah. Most Liverpool fans would agree that the process has become tenuous in the space of mere weeks, as the Reds have only recorded three goals in the Premier League in 2023.
Even so, great managers rarely change their footballing ethos, from the dazzling possession-based football boasted by Pep Guardiola to the stubborn but effective counter-attacking football displayed by Jose Mourinho. Nevertheless, the harsh reality is that Liverpool are conceding far too many chances and barely look like scoring from open play.
The Liverpool of old are rapidly ceasing to be and Klopp has the heavy burden of a rebuild on his hands, but with more than enough credit in the bank, metaphorically, he is more than deserving of an amnesty period.
Fans will hope that prospective new owners will be more proactive in the transfer market
Liverpool owner John Henry’s decision to listen to offers for the club in November was an opportunity to review their arguably underwhelming tenure. From a financial perspective, Fenway Sports Group purchased the club for around £300 million over twelve years ago, with the club now being valued at approximately £4 billion. While the casual onlooker would deem it an unparalleled success, others would credit the genius of former sporting director Michael Edwards and the miracle that is Jurgen Klopp, rather than the owners themselves.
FSG’s ‘sell to buy’ philosophy and their overall lack of ambition curtailed the club’s activity in the transfer market and rendered them simply incapable of competing with the financial might of other clubs.
Furthermore, their inability to replace some of the club’s most important members in recent history is epitomised in this season’s squad. From the creative flair provided by Philippe Coutinho to the tenacity of Gini Wijnaldum, the Reds definitely seem to be missing the latter and they are not helped by FSG’s failure to sign a midfielder since Thiago well over two years ago.
Making Champions League qualification a must for next season
Instead, Klopp is bundled with panic buys such as loan arrivals Ozan Kabak (20/21) and Arthur Melo (22/23), the latter of whom is yet to make a Premier League appearance due to a long-term injury. With the club up for sale, fans will hope that prospective new owners will be more proactive in the transfer market and support Jurgen Klopp in his attempt to build on his success with Liverpool.
The Reds’ squad this season has highlighted the need for a massive overhaul at the club. As the contracts of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Naby Keita are set to expire this summer, places in the squad will open up for Liverpool’s transfer targets.
The one player on the fans’ mind is undoubtedly Borussia Dortmund superstar Jude Bellingham. The England international is reportedly Klopp’s number one target for the summer, as he could be the answer to the club’s midfield crisis. However, the Reds will face stiff competition from the likes of Man City and Real Madrid for the nineteen-year-old, effectively making Champions League qualification a must for next season.
While FSG have spent big money on signings such as van Dijk and Núñez, Bellingham’s potential record-breaking transfer may be one of the first pieces of business completed by a new owner, should a club sale go through in the near future.
Prospective owners must understand that Klopp requires heavy financial backing to rebuild the squad and catapult the Reds back to the pinnacle of English football.
At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky
A rare piece of good news for Liverpool fans is the emergence of teenage midfielder Stefan Baj?eti?, whose confidence on the ball and astute defensive awareness has proved to be a short-term remedy for their midfield woes. Liverpool fans know that if Klopp was able to develop the side he took over in October 2015 into eventual world beaters, he is more than capable of doing something similar with a squad that still has several, younger members of that fabric.
With the Reds six points adrift from Champions League qualification following a Merseyside derby victory over, it’s still all to play for this season. Fans will be hoping that their anthem’s famous phrase ‘at the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky’ rings true.
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