Liverpool: Why It’s All Gone Wrong

01/24/2023

It's hard to imagine that at this time last year, Liverpool was competing in 4 different competitions and at the doorstep of completing an unprecedented historic quadruple. Maybe coming so close to winning it all makes this version of Liverpool even harder to accept for fans. How could a team that played such beautiful futbol, dominated opponents, fought for each other, and inspired fans to believe in the impossible struggle so badly? The issue with this question is that there is no straightforward answer. The squad is nearly the same, and they are not playing more games than last year. The issues that Liverpool is dealing with go beyond just needing to bring in a few new players, and this article will detail a few reasons why it's going so wrong this season.


1. Decrease in quality, increase in mistakes.

Liverpool In all competitions Since Klopp Took Over

At their peak, Liverpool was a team that the opposition dreaded facing. Jurgen Klopp, known for his " heavy metal" approach to football, created a side that smothered opposition in their half with extremely aggressive pressing and high intensity. "High Pressure" is a term that is constantly thrown around in modern soccer, however to pressure an opponent in their half demands more than just intensity and the willingness to run. It requires organization and everyone to be on the same page. For example, Mo Salah must be able to trust that when he presses, his midfielders are where they need to be. For years that was the case. Everyone knew their role, and the Liverpool team hunted in packs once they lost the ball, often resulting in them quickly regaining it and reestablishing their dominance in possession. Wave after Wave of high pressure often wore opponents down, causing them to fatigue and leaving them susceptible to making mistakes that Liverpool often capitalized on. For years this was the case- extremely efficient high pressing defense followed by direct forward play feeding potent forwards thirsting for goals and opportunities.

However, this is not the case this season. The pressing, once organized and everlasting, is now scrambled and ineffective. And the intensity that was a trademark of a Jurgen Klopp team is no longer. That disorganization and lack of intensity means their pressure is futile and easy to play through. The Liverpool players no longer close the distances they once did and are not moving in a coherent unit, meaning that opponents now have more time and options to break the Liverpool press.

This could be due to several reasons. It could be because of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue from playing full throttle for multiple years. Having to be on edge mentally and physically all the time comes at a cost, and this season might be evidence that the players simply cannot take themselves to that place anymore. In addition, the disappointment from the previous season might also be a factor. Coming within 15 minutes of winning the prem and a Courtois masterclass preventing them from winning the Champions League must play heavily on the minds and hearts of the Liverpool team. Whatever the reason might be, the lack of press translates to Liverpool's dip in form and increase in mistakes. Liverpool is constantly conceding goals now, and in fact, they have conceded first in the past six games away from home. And their home form is not much better, with stats having them at 40% likely to be losing at halftime. The lack of press, intensity, and compactness is why Liverpool is defensively vulnerable.


2. Liverpool's transfer policy issues

Yet again, in the summer of 2022, Liverpool did not address the midfield. This predicament follows a similar pattern from 2018 and 2019, when Liverpool desperately needed attacking reinforcements. There might be people who try to shrug this argument away and point out the fact that this is the same midfield who was fighting for the quadruple a few months ago. But, fact of the matter is that this area of the pitch, which used to be dominated by Liverpool, has been overworked and over-exhausted. Fabinho in on the decline; a player once considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the world for many years is now just a shadow of himself. Henderson and Milner can no longer be relied upon to start the most important games and no longer have the consistent quality to start in the premier league. Thiago, Keita, and Oxlade Chamberlain, players possessing unique attributes, are constantly in and out of the squad due to injury issues. Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliot, two generational talents, are young and being asked to do too much at their current level. Fabio Carvalho is another young talent who was brought in as a 10, but is now asked to fill a different role. All of the above combines to explain why Liverpool's midfield is being cut apart by the opposition. The defeat to Brighton is the most recent example of this. So, while it is true Liverpool does have numbers in midfield, this is a perfect example that quantity does not necessarily mean quality.

FSG have a history of being tight with their pocket strings, evidenced by the net-spend of Liverpool over recent years. Under Klopp, the net spend has been a measly 207 million pounds, 279 million less than Manchester City at 486 million pounds. Klopp has not received the backing required to equal that of his rivals like City, United, and Chelsea, so he cannot solve his problems in the transfer market. Klopp might also feel pressure that due to limited spending, he can't afford to make a mistake in the market. A prime example of this would be Liverpool's failing go after another midfielder once Klopp's desired target Tchouameni signed for Real Madrid this summer. It might also explain why Milner and Henderson keep getting short-term contracts. Due to the limited budget, he would rather keep resigning them (despite them getting older and performance levels dropping) than demand additional funds to refresh the squad.


3. Klopp's lack of adaptation and loyalty

There is an elephant in the room that must also be addressed.

Klopp does have some responsibility to play in current struggles.

While it is absolutely ridiculous that some suggest Klopp should be sacked or moved on, his refusal to adjust and change tactics, lineups, and personnel has only exacerbated and largened Liverpool's struggles. Klopp's identity and style of play are both a strength and weakness. For example, seeing that his team can no longer press in the ways they once did and that opposing teams are exploiting their defensive frailties with counterattacks, it would be sensible to defend deeper and pressure differently. Yet, he continues demanding his team presses high up the pitch, leaving his high defensive line exposed to counterattacks.

We must that Klopp is wedded to certain players, and his belief that they'll play themselves into form has also presented issues. Players like Milner and Henderson, who are essential, should not be starting high-profile premier league games. For different factors such as age, quality, technical ability, and energy, they are not up to par with what Liverpool currently needs. They are at the point in their careers where they should be in the backseat, offering leadership and guidance to more suitable players instead of leading the charge. Instead of providing opportunities and taking gambles on different players, he has continued to trust players that are not performing and are constantly making mistakes. A perfect example of this is the lack of playing time for Stefan Bajcetic and Calvin Ramsey. Both have impressed with few chances and seem prepared to take on more responsibility. As Fabinho and Trent continue to underperform, these younger players should be getting more opportunities to either force them to improve or open the door to players more prepared to do the required tasks.


4. Injuries

Arthur Melo - Thigh

Luis Diaz - Knee

Virgil Van Dijk - Hamstring

Diogo Jota - Calf

Roberto Firmino - Calf

Joel Matip - Hamstring

Having 6 players out does not necessarily make for an injury crisis, but we must note that these are all key players vital to how Klopp wants Liverpool to play and function. There are key misses to the front line, such as Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota, both potent wingers and efficient at pressing from the front. Their abundance of energy, willingness to press, and IQ means that Liverpool is instantly a better team with them in it. This only needs to be seen in the game against Manchester City, where Diogo Jota literally worked so hard on and off the ball that he suffered a long-term injury. Roberto Firmino is also sorely being missed, not so much for his output (he is a false-9 specializing in dropping into the midfield and linking up play) but for the stability and familiarity that comes with him. He has been a Liverpool player for years and has built an understanding and relationship with the players and system around him. The people around him trust him. His availability would lessen the pressure on Darwin Nunez, Liverpool's costly summer signing. Darwin Nunez now has to take on a bigger role than he's prepared for simply because there's no one else available. There are so many injuries to the front link that Klopp has begun playing Oxlade Chamberlain and Elliot out wide, evidence that the German is desperate to get his leaders back.

Defensively, Liverpool is missing their rocks in Virgil and Joel, A partnership that has ushered an elite level of security and stability to the Liverpool back line. It is of utmost importance that the two of them not only return to health but return to form as well. This season has seen Virgil get exposed in ways no one saw coming. Attackers used to fear going against the Dutchman, but now it seems that Virgil has not only lost control of his back line, but he's also unable to win his individual battles anymore. Look no further than Mitrovic in the first game of the season or Jadon Sancho of Manchester United. Gone is the aura of the big man and the fear that attackers felt going against him. Perhaps this injury could be a blessing in disguise, giving him a chance to mentally reset and get back to his best for when he returns.


Conclusion

This season comes as a shock after coming so close to winning it all last season. However, Liverpool fans and perhaps even the players themselves need to accept something:

Yes, they were on the verge of greatness last season, but they are dreadfully mediocre at the moment and are at risk of taking a massive step back if the season doesn't turn around.

With the Premier League being more competitive than ever, Liverpool is at serious risk of losing out on a top-4 spot and the Champions League next season. Losing the Champions League next season could be catastrophic for multiple reasons. It would make the club less appealing to potential players, making the refresh that much more difficult. They would also lose out on funds meaning that the purse strings might get that much tighter, also making it difficult to refresh.

The good things are that there is still plenty of games and time for Liverpool to turn this around. They are still in three competitions and can achieve good things this season; it is just going to take a coming together as a club to get through this difficult period. However, as their famous saying goes, " You Will Never Walk Alone . . ."


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