Are Liverpool out of the title race?

The Emirates FA Cup

Thursday night’s defeat to Burnley left manager Jurgen Klopp and his players feeling possibly lower than ever during his time at the club.

An impressive 4-year unbeaten home record meekly thrown away.

From 90 shots on goal Liverpool have scored just once. (Sadio Mane against West Brom on 27th December 2020)

They have gone five Premier League games without a win. The last being the 7-0 triumph against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

That day (19th December 2020) seems a lifetime ago.

And four Premier League games without a goal. Has all of this seeped into the minds of the players that were seen as God’s and heroes last year after ending the club’s 30-year wait for the Premiership title?

Time will tell if Liverpool’s players can show their spirit and resolve, and haul themselves back into contention for trophies.

But what is certain, is this next week against Manchester United, Tottenham and West Ham, may well define Liverpool’s year.

How has it gone wrong? 

Injuries. To put it bluntly. Losing Virgil van Dijk for the season was a killer blow to the club’s players.

However, to their credit, Liverpool responded well with impressive wins and clean sheets against the likes of Atalanta, Leicester City and Wolves.

Let’s not forget on Christmas Day Liverpool topped the Christmas tree after 14 matches and everything was hunky dory.

It’s only in the last five games that everything has unravelled quite sporadically with two painful defeats to Southampton and Burnley respectably, sandwiched between uninspiring draws with West Brom, Newcastle and Man United.

It appears van Dijk’s absence in the short term perhaps inspired the players to show they could still win without their defensive talisman.

But as the weeks have worn on, the team’s belief has completely evaporated, when they realise their having to make do with a makeshift central defence, and no van Dikk.

This has been compounded by the injury of the Dutchman’s partner in crime Joe Gomez.

Even captain Jordan Henderson has struggled to pick his team up in recent games.

Throw into the mix former Liverpool icon Jamie Carragher’s comments that he has never seen so many players out of form at the same time. It is a recipe for disaster.

There have also been unfortunate and highly questionable VAR, penalty and offside decisions against Liverpool.

Klopp’s side were denied a last-minute win against Everton, as Henderson’s goal was disallowed for a fractional offside decision against Sadio Mane.

Whilst referee Michael Oliver has finally admitted publicly that he should have sent off Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for his rash challenge that left van Dijk badly injured and needing surgery.

A last-minute penalty was also dubiously awarded against them in the Brighton game at the Amex, as the Seagulls rescued a draw from the jaws of defeat.

Andy Robertson was judged to have kicked Brighton striker Danny Welbeck, but this was almighty soft.

Had this been United or Manchester City, we would likely have been looking at a no penalty decision.

It’s also possible that the packed calendar due to the impact of Coronavirus hasn’t helped the club either.

Did Liverpool throw the title away? 

There is every possibility that if Liverpool had beaten the likes of Brighton and Fulham along with Everton, West Brom, Newcastle, United and Burnley you would be looking at 15 points.

Enough to have still kept them ahead of the likes of United and City.

This in turn would have sent out a strong psychological message to their rivals, that they are not giving up this title.

The others would have to play above their level in order to seize it.

Instead, the converse opposite has happened where Liverpool have gifted their rivals the advantage, to the extent that someone such as Gary Neville is mocking them.

However, we all know Neville likes to celebrate at the misfortune of others.

Even though his team have gone four years without a trophy, experiencing four consecutive semi-final defeats, as fellow pundit Carragher rightly pointed out.

The mockery does however suggest that Liverpool have transferred their own confidence over to City and United.

Five matches ago everything was looking rosy and pointing to another Anfield Premier League triumph.

Now the table looks completely different and has been flipped on its head. Now United lie six points above the champions.

City, with a game in hand, could go seven ahead of Klopp’s men and that is a huge gap.

Bear in mind, if Liverpool carry on the bad habit of drawing, they could soon find themselves 12 or 14 points behind and a huge gulf will build up between them and the Manchester clubs.

How can Klopp arrest this slide? 

He needs the support of the players now more than ever.

It was interesting after the Burnley game that the German took the blame for the defeat and shielded his players.

Yet when Liverpool win it is always the players that take the credit and never Klopp. So, this paradox doesn’t add up.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mane, Bobby Firmino, Mo Salah and Divock Origi are amongst those to look a shadow of their best selves.

Years of overachieving?

This is a team that amassed 196 points over two seasons. That bounced back from a painful Champions League final defeat to win a year later, securing the club’s sixth European Cup in 2018-2019.

This included memorable wins over the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

That season they pushed what was then a dominant, consistent and highly expensively assembled Manchester City side all the way, against the odds, finishing one point off the title with an unprecedented 97 points.

They also struck fear in Guardiola’s city ending their long unbeaten start to the season and knocked them out of the Champions League as Klopp and his players took all the plaudits.

This Liverpool side then refused to rest on their laurels as they swept all before them to finally win the sacred Premier League title, they had so desperately craved.

Finishing the 19-20 season with 99 points is the second highest margin in Premier League history, one point off Man City’s 2018 centurions.

In the wider context, the past two seasons showed Liverpool have achieved more wins in a league season, and amassed more points than any of Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams. An outstanding achievement.

Yet the critics of Liverpool’s players have based their opinion of them on five games rather than the past three years.

Klopp must reignite these fond memories and encourage his players that there are still new exciting chapters ahead.

Transfer friction 

Underneath the surface tensions lie. We can now see Klopp is unhappy with the owners for not helping him to invest in a defender.

A lot of fans have voiced their frustrations with their American owners Fenway Sports Group. (FSG)

But emotion clouds judgment. It is easy to forget that the owners have supported Klopp in their big money winter capture of van Dijk three years ago.

They have also spent big on the likes of Salah, Alisson, and more recently Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcântara.

Owner John W Henry and Chairman Tom Werner will point to Coronavirus pandemic and absence of crowds as being behind a lack of transfer funds.

But Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs and commercial sports businesses’ in the world. They have funds from TV rights and Nike sponsorships.

In Klopp’s defence, Croatian Dejan Lovren was never replaced and most clubs operate with four recognised first team centre backs. Liverpool have only three, with two injured.

It would be completely fair of Klopp to politely ask the board for funds, and hopefully they will oblige him in his hour of need.

FA Cup preview: vs Man United

Mane, Salah and Firmino may be experiencing a goal drought, but its not completely their own doing.

Moving Fabinho and Henderson back into midfield will give the frontline better service and this is something Liverpool fans are dying to see.

This should give opportunities to the likes of Rhys Williams and Nat Philipps, that have performed admirably when called upon this season.

Meanwhile, Xherdan Shaqiri has played his way back into the side and the only player to emerge with real credit from the club’s recent slump.

Hopefully the Swiss will get more game time and stay injury free in the coming weeks.

Verdict and prediction:

With only eight days left of the transfer window, the Liverpool board has to urgently look into supporting Klopp wherever it can.

Teams like United have taken advantage of free transfers and snared Edinson Cavani, a player Liverpool could so easily have gone in for.

If the club can approach Diego Costa, even on a short-term deal, it could inject new life and competition into Liverpool’s strike force.

As for the title, Klopp should tell his players to forget the title and focus on scoring goals and winning games and seeing where it takes them.

They are the underdogs now.

If they can make life uncomfortable for both Manchester sides, at least they will have some say in the destination of the title come what May.

As for the FA Cup, United will start heavy favourites, but if Liverpool win, it could revive their season.

About the Author

James Spencer
My name is James and I have supported Liverpool since I was 6 years old. My favourite players growing up were Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia. My most memorable match would be the UEFA Cup Final win over Deportivo Alaves that finished 5-4 to Liverpool! I am studying journalism in Manchester although I am a Liverpool fan through and through.