Eight months after Liverpool came within touching distance of an unprecedented quadruple, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is battling to save his side’s troubled season from imploding.
Klopp’s men crashed to a dismal 3-0 defeat at Brighton on Saturday that left them languishing in ninth place in the Premier League and added to the soul-searching at Anfield.
AFP Sport looks at the reasons for the malaise ahead of Liverpool’s FA Cup third-round replay at Wolves on Tuesday.
Quadruple bid takes a toll
Liverpool’s pursuit of four trophies last season ultimately ended in frustration after Manchester City pipped them to the title and Real Madrid won the Champions League final.
And the cost of that epic history bid, which brought Liverpool victories in the FA and League Cup finals, is still being felt this season.
Klopp admitted on Friday that Liverpool have showed signs of being mentally and physically exhausted after last season’s 63-game campaign, in which the Reds played every possible fixture in all four competitions.
“It must have (had an effect). We can say that now,” Klopp said when asked about Liverpool’s fatigue.
“There was no book written about it, there was no data about it, because nobody played that many games before.”
The most visible sign of the debilitating effect of Liverpool’s marathon season has been in the Anfield treatment room—crammed with injured stars throughout this term.
Klopp’s forward line for the match at Brighton was missing a host of stars with Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez and Roberto Firmino all absent, while centre-back Virgil van Dijk was also sidelined.
Klopp’s desire for a frenetic game-plan based on relentlessly pressing Liverpool’s opponents into submission is best suited to a midfield packed with energetic workaholics.
For most of his reign at Liverpool that is exactly what he got from Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and James Milner as his “heavy metal” philosophy delivered Premier League and Champions League glory.
Now, however, Liverpool are beginning to pay the price for failing to freshen up a midfield that is showing its age.
Henderson (32), Milner (37), Thiago Alcantara (31) and Fabinho (29) are unable to consistently carry out Klopp’s demands, while the younger Naby Keita and Curtis Jones have been sidelined by injuries.
“It’s a real low point for us as a team,” Liverpool captain Henderson said. “We are low on confidence. You can see that when we’re playing, the energy levels are low. We need to stay together.”
Sadio Mane’s value to Liverpool was never in doubt but it is still surprising how much the Senegal star has been missed since joining Bayern Munich last year.
With Mane roaming across Liverpool’s front line there was more than one dangerman for opponents to focus on, allowing acres of space for Mohamed Salah to exploit.
Mane’s lethal finishing, creativity and work-rate made him indispensable and Klopp has yet to replace his output despite bringing in Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo in the past 12 months.
Netherlands forward Gakpo arrived from PSV Eindhoven earlier this month despite interest from Manchester United after shining at the World Cup.
The 23-year-old is without a goal in his first two appearances, but Klopp will hope he can fill Mane’s boots in time.
Trouble at the top
Klopp has been coy when asked about the impact of the Fenway Sports Group’s decision to put Liverpool up for sale in November, but there is no doubt the potential for a boardroom change has created uncertainty at Anfield.
Although US-based FSG sanctioned Klopp’s £40 million ($48 million) move for Gakpo, it was notable that the German has quietly grumbled about Liverpool’s transfer investment compared with their main Premier League rivals.
Klopp reportedly wanted Aurelien Tchouameni in the close season but the France midfielder went to Real Madrid instead, while Borussia Dortmund’s England star Jude Bellingham is understood to be another top target.
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