Think back to the early months of the season and but for a defeat at Burnley, Liverpool looked like a team capable of sweeping away all before them. Not only were they winning football matches, they were doing it in style and Jurgen Klopp was receiving high praise from around the footballing world. The 1-0 defeat of Manchester City on the final day of 2016, saw Liverpool start the New Year in a great position but 2017 has been a nightmare at Anfield.
Klopp’s team have won one of eight games since the turn of the year, which was a forgettable FA Cup replay victory at Plymouth. However, the defeat at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team sitting in 18th place in the Championship, has seen Liverpool exit both domestic cup competitions in the space of a few days. The defeat was the third in a row at Anfield and having enjoyed great attacking football, full of energy, in the early months of the season, things have taken a severe turn for the worst. So, what’s going wrong for Liverpool?
The run of poor results started with the 2-2 draw at Sunderland. Twice Liverpool took the lead against the relegation threatened team, only to allow Sunderland back into the game, via the concession of two penalties. Liverpool lost both legs against Southampton in the League Cup semi-final and cannot have any complaints about being knocked out of the competition. Klopp has pointed to the congested fixture list but it was the manager’s decision to select a weakened team for the FA Cup match at home to Plymouth, which resulted in an extra fixture being added to the calendar.
Liverpool do not have European football this season. There are no mid-week European matches upcoming, so why the need to completely change the team for a match Liverpool could easily have won the first time of asking? Yes, make some changes and freshen up areas of the team but there were two players maximum in the starting XI against Plymouth, who are pushing for a regular slot in the team.
The lack of threat going forward has become evident in recent matches, with Liverpool struggling to create and looking slow in the final third. The loss of Sadio Mane has been a big blow. Liverpool have won three out of ten games without the Senegalese forward and his injection of pace and directness has been sorely missed, in addition to the goals he has brought to the team. Klopp has Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge at his disposal but the former is lacking in confidence and the latter does not offer what Klopp desires.
Philippe Coutinho is another player who has been missed. The Brazilian is still working his way back to full fitness and he will make a difference when he is back to his best. Without both him and Mane, Liverpool have been lacking in the attacking third.
However, their absence cannot be the sole reason for Liverpool’s decline. Players have been struggling to carry out Klopp’s style of play, which involves pressuring the opposition high up the pitch. Liverpool’s players have covered huge distances this season, more than any other team in the Premier League and perhaps it is starting to catch up with them. That being said, statistics show Liverpool have continued to work hard since the turn of the year, so can player tiredness really be an excuse?
With Chelsea arriving at Anfield for Liverpool’s biggest game of the season, the bulk of the Liverpool faithful are still behind Klopp. Perhaps the major problem has been the rising expectations this season, as Liverpool started so well there were talks of the title, whereas, at the start of the season, the top four was the main target. The truth of the matter is Liverpool are short on quality players and are still in the process of building a squad capable of challenging for the title. Perhaps Klopp has been a victim of his own success?