In the previous two seasons, Liverpool demonstrated they were a side playing with a confidence and a swagger under manager Jurgen Klopp. Now they can barely score or muster a win. A dramatic fall from grace.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City may be storming to this season’s league title but they were the architects in creating a Liverpool side that became highly efficient and consistent.
In 2018-2019, Klopp’s men finished one point shy of the title, finishing on a then club record 97 points.
Winning the Champions League that year set the platform for Liverpool to dominate English football as they were crowded champions for the first time in 30 years.
With 99 points, a record equalling 32 wins in a calendar season, an 18-point winning margin over Man City, the nearest challengers, and only three defeats all season, Liverpool were utterly dominant and stood at the pinnacle of English football.
Now they lie in 6th place in the Premier League, 19 points off the top of the Premiership and with four consecutive home defeats, marking the club’s worst run of form at Anfield since 1923.
The likes of Burnley, Brighton, Manchester City and Everton have all now made a mockery of the fortress of Anfield myth.
Coupled with the 3-1 defeat to former boss Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, sandwiched between the City and Everton games, the champions are on a four-match losing streak in the league.
They have surrendered prestigious records such as their 68-match unbeaten home record, lasting three and half years, until Burnley took full advantage of a woeful Liverpool performance.
On Sunday, Everton finally inflicted victory on their Merseyside rivals and celebrated victory on the Anfield turf for the first time in nearly 22 years since September 1999.
What’s gone wrong?
At Christmas, Liverpool topped the Premiership and were on somewhat of a high after their 7-0 demolition against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Disappointing draws against West Brom and Newcastle then set the tone going into the New Year. Defeat at St Mary’s against Southampton, followed closely by a dull and slightly fortuitous draw with Manchester United at Anfield, put Klopp’s men into a downward spiral.
Sean Dyche’s Burnley then stunned Liverpool at Anfield to put Klopp’s team at an all time low. The champions then performed well at Old Trafford against Man United in the FA Cup but crashed out after refereeing decisions again went against them, as their 15-year wait without winning the oldest cup competition in the world continued.
Back-to-back away wins against Tottenham and West Ham, yielding six goals and six points in the space of a week, provided a glimpse of hope that the side was now back on track.
Calamitous losses to Brighton, Man City, Leicester and Everton have then compounded the team and the supporters’ misery.
Even last week’s 2-0 Champions League win against Bundesliga outfit Leipzig in Budapest proved to be a false dawn.
Injuries, Covid-19 effect and VAR decisions
It is no secret that Liverpool have endured terrible luck with injuries this season. Defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk’s injury against Everton, back in October, was initially dealt with well but when centre-back partner Joe Gomez got injured on international duty with England, the wheels soon began to come off the side mentally.
Surprise draws against Fulham and Brighton cost Liverpool points that could have given them a healthy and psychologically important lead at the top of the Premiership. However, this chance wasn’t seized.
In January, Joel Matip was ruled out for the rest of the season while captain Jordan Henderson’s injury at the weekend against Everton means he will miss at least the next five matches.
The club has used 23 different centre back partnerships this season more than in any other season.
Injuries to Fabinho, Naby Keita, Diogo Jota has also damaged the team’s confidence and chances of success on the field.
Although the congested fixtures due to last season’s late finish and the late September start date affected all clubs, it has not helped the champions one bit.
Since the lockdown and last season’s pause Liverpool have struggled to find the same rhythm and consistency they once had.
As for VAR, Liverpool with 12 decisions against them have endured more than any other team in the league. This says a lot as to why the team has been struggling.
Teams like Man City have continually had decisions in their favour, particularly offside goals. Meanwhile, Man United and Bruno Fernandes have prospered with an obscene number of penalties in their favour.
For Liverpool this has not at all been the case. This has allowed their rivals to win more matches with decisions going their way. As well as them experiencing less injuries.
No spectators and out of form stars
Another interesting factor to consider would be the absence of fans at Anfield which has majorly limited the club’s winning spirit. The Kop in full voice has propelled the players to perform at unbelievable levels in recent years.
This then could lock into a lack of motivation from the players. Goalkeeper Alisson has made rare errors against Man City and Leicester, in recent defeats.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, the homegrown hero, has performed way below his usual high standards.
Andy Robertson has also not been at his best. Meanwhile, Sadio Mane has reportedly suffered from long-Covid symptoms, which may explain his recent struggles.
The list of under performers goes on. Apart from Mohamed Salah, every Liverpool player should be playing with their futures on the line. Striker Bobby Firmino has been particularly disappointing.
Fringe players Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Neco Williams and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have also done little to demonstrate they have a future at the Anfield club.
Timely return of star man Diogo Jota
Portugal’s Fernandes dragged United up the table after his arrival last year. In a similar plot twist, can his fellow countryman Jota drag Liverpool out of the mire and help them finish in the top four?
The former Wolves striker is back in training and reportedly making strong progress. Hopefully, after three-months out, he may make a substitutes appearance against Sheffield United this weekend.
His comeback is key as it could provide Klopp’s side with a vital injection of confidence going forward.
Midfielder Naby Keita, after nearly two months on the sidelines, is also back in contention.
Following a muscle tear, midfielder and makeshift defender Fabinho is also closing in on his first team return also.
Liverpool don’t step onto the field believing they can win
In tennis Roger Federer once likened winning to stepping onto the court believing you could win. If you didn’t, you had already lost.
To adapt this sporting metaphor, Liverpool appear to be beaten before they have even kicked a ball.
The way their confidence has been sucked out of them in their home matches is particularly worrying.
Other teams are sensing this insecurity and that in turn gives them confidence to win.
First half firing blanks
Liverpool must end the hoodoo of being unable to score in the first half. It is putting undue pressure on the team.
Going into half-time goalless or without a goal is psychologically threatening the team’s chances of success. You can tell with how tight and jaded they look.
If they can lay siege to their opponent’s goal in the first 20 minutes and grab a vital goal, it will relax the players’ minds and hopefully release the shackles for them to show why they became champions at a canter last season.
Correcting this aspect of why the team has struggled is crucial in them permanently getting back on track, building up a consistent string of wins and so regaining their place in the top four.
4-3-3 Formation has become too predictable
Lots of fans have lamented the predictability of Klopp’s trusted 4-3-3 formation.
Other teams have sussed it out and combined with the lack of confidence, absence of van Dijk, Gomez, Matip and Henderson, this system does not suit the current players.
Changing the formation to a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 may be more beneficial now.
Moving Firmino further up the pitch to support Salah should also be considered. Meanwhile, Gini Wijnaldum is at his best, like against Barcelona last season, when he is playing high up the pitch.
Too many times we have seen Klopp’s midfield play too defensive. They must be more attacking and play on the front foot to give Salah, Mane and Firmino the support and service they need.
Next five matches and predictions
Liverpool have Sheffield United away on Sunday. Before hosting Chelsea, Fulham and Leipzig in the return leg of the Champions League knockout stages. They then face a difficult trip to Wolves at Molineux.
I can honestly see Liverpool drawing with Sheffield United and meekly edging past Fulham. Followed by a defeat to Thomas Tuchel’s in form Blues, unbeaten in eight under the German.
I am then predicting a draw with the highly rated Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig, but enough to take Liverpool through. With a defeat to Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves my final prediction.
My only hope is that Klopp and his players can arrest this alarming slide, particularly as they now lie five points off fourth placed West Ham, who have impressed this season.
Jota’s comeback should apply pressure to Mane, Firmino and Salah to up their game and with everyone in the media doubting the champions, this could be the vital fuel and motivation they need to get back on track.