Photo Credit: Liverpool Twitter
On January 4th, Liverpool were the Premier League leaders while Manchester City were struggling to even enter into top 4 and were standing on 6th position. But, in the next 67 days, Liverpool are now closer in points (17) to the relegation zone than they are to leaders Manchester City (25). Now eighth, Jurgen Klopp’s side are seven points behind the Champions League places and his team have conceded more goals than any other side in the top half of the division. The latest addition to their domestic season implosion is sixth consecutive home Premier League defeat in a row, this time against 18th-placed side Fulham.
Since beating Crystal Palace 7-0 in mid-December, Liverpool have failed to win 11 of their last 14 Premier League matches and did not score a goal in eight of those fixtures. Prior to January’s 1-0 defeat by Burnley, Liverpool were unbeaten in 68 Premier League games at Anfield but have now lost six top-flight home matches in a row for the first time. It is the highest number of home league defeats since the 1953-54 season when Liverpool were relegated.
The club’s dismal form have put Jurgen Klopp’s future on line as it was being reported that Bayern Munich have long term admirers of Klopp and rates him as an ideal replacement of Hansi Flick, if Flick decides to take over as manager of German national team. Karl Heinz Rummenigge has, in 2008, opted to endorse Jurgen Klinsmann instead of Klopp and might not want to repeat the same mistake again. Rummenigge even tried to convince Klopp to take over from Pep Guardiola as Bayern’s new manager, but Klopp chose to stay at Liverpool and have even signed a new contract with the Merseyside club. However, Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) stand by the German coach and believe he can arrest the alarming slide with club president Mike Gordon managed to convince him to distance himself from soon to be vacant German National Team managerial job.
Even though Liverpool have advanced into Champions League Quarterfinals, but the current domestic form along with the risk of losing closer to £40 Million due to non qualification in UEFA Champions League 2021-22 is a grave concern.
The reasons for such dismal domestic performances were boiled down to a mounting injury list, a psychological comedown after three years of success, the unusual circumstances of football during a pandemic, and the personal tragedies that overwhelmed the club when Klopp’s mother passed away in January and then goalkeeper Alisson lost his father in February. Even though the way Liverpool functions as a club is different from Chelsea and Manchester United, Klopp’s resistance to tweaking his preferred system of play, while the behaviour of Mohamed Salah’s agent and the club’s failure to recruit a centre-half before the close of the summer transfer window attracts scrutiny. Under-par performances from January signing Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies have raised questions over the club's recruitment policy in addition to the internal policy for handling injuries.
As Liverpool climbed to the top of the Premier League by the middle of December, leaving supporters dreaming of consecutive titles, the picture internally was not quite as unanimously rosy. There had been early season blips, including the 7-2 defeat against Aston Villa and three goals conceded in a home win over Leeds. Contrary to the current home form, Liverpool’s initial problems were away from Anfield, where they failed to win five of their first six away games of the league season.
The other reasons could be the fact that several players, especially the senior players had started to feel “mentally drained” after three years in which the club had reached two Champions League finals and won the Premier League. The period between Liverpool’s defeat by Southampton on January 4 and the draw against Manchester United on January 17 could be seen as a time when the Liverpool players had space to recharge. This, they suggest, should have allowed players a reasonable amount of recovery time. In between, Liverpool had only a game against a heavily depleted Aston Villa in the FA Cup. The management has acknowledged the fact that their players are facing physical exhaustion and psychological malaise and have decided to NOT participate in the International Champions Cup and will hold a training camp in a European country.
Talking about injuries, Liverpool players have endured 47 absences in the Premier League this season, with an absence defined as an occasion when a player has been unavailable due to illness or injury for at least one game, and this is the highest number in the division. The season-ending injuries to Van Dijk and Gomez triggered a chaotic situation in the Liverpool defence, where there have been 18 central defensive partnerships. There is, however, an acceptance that the club’s run of injuries should be studied to prevent a repeat, and the club is constantly reviewing its processes and searching for new innovations. In some cases, Liverpool have been plain unlucky. Van Dijk and Thiago suffered serious injuries as a result of poor challenges at Everton. Gomez’s season ended in a training session with England. In some cases, internal sources are questioning whether the requirement of playing in different positions, such as Fabinho and Henderson, has triggered different body movements to inflame strains and tears. Certainly, Liverpool is exploring what may be done to prevent any repeat of the muscle injuries suffered this season. It seems like players may not have trained at their usual high intensity so as to avoid picking up further injuries to add to Liverpool’s concerns.
On January 19, Klopp’s mother Elisabeth passed away. At Liverpool’s training ground, the German coach held a meeting with his players where he explained the news. He was supported by his staff and squad. Klopp was unable to travel home due to COVID-19 restrictions and the news only became public knowledge when a local newspaper journalist, who is also a long-time family friend, reported the news around the time of the funeral with the coach’s permission. Klopp was unable to attend the funeral and continued to work through the busiest period of Liverpool’s season. Even though Liverpool’s senior players were concerned by the run of form that had developed, they also wished to know what they could do for Klopp in order to make his experience as comfortable as possible in testing circumstances.
At this stage, Liverpool’s players are not demonstrating signs of turning either on each other or their manager Klopp. Indeed, it has been a peculiarity of this run of form that Liverpool have still produced excellent performances in wins at West Ham, Tottenham and twice against Leipzig, while Liverpool also performed well before they imploded late on away at Leicester. After the Fulham defeat, the dressing room was understandably morose. Klopp had shaken up his team selection, starting Neco Williams, Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips, Xherdan Shaqiri and Keita, but the performance showed little sign of difference or improvement. Various representatives of Liverpool players have almost unanimously defended the German coach following Fulham defeat which is not the norm when a major club endures a significant downturn of results.
There is, also, an acceptance within Anfield that Liverpool have not got to grips with “pandemic football” as well as their rivals. Several players, and this will not be limited to Liverpool, have struggled with the loss of control over their own life; the inability to travel, to bring their family over, or, as is often the case with Premier League players, get a few friends on a plane and watching the game from the stands before some time together socially. In addition, Klopp feels his staff and players would have appreciated some time in the sun, such as a mid-season training camp, or a few days off for a holiday, as can usually be enjoyed in a normal campaign.
There could be endless testaments to Liverpool’s current slump but as we all know about Klopp, he will definitely bounce back and might end up clinching a title and placing the Merseyside Reds to where they belong, in the CHAMPIONS LEAGUE.