Oh, Liverpool. It began with Ashley Barnes, through Steven Alzate, Phil Foden and Richarlison. Mason Mount added his name to that list, and Mario Lemina is just the latest central character to Liverpool's downfall. Whatever shall we do with the deposed champions?
Right from the arrival of Klopp, Liverpool have been one of the most talked about teams in the Premier League. The disastrous 2017/18 Champions league final where the fans were left incensed as Sergio Ramos injured Mo Salah out of the game. And Loris Karius had a meltdown. The quite unbelievable 2018/19 season where they got it right after reaching the European final again, picking up a sixth trophy. It was also the season when 97 points weren't enough to win the league in a tight title race. The 2019/20 season, where they ran out of the blocks, and didn't look back, eventually winning a first Premier League title. After 30 long years, they were champions of England again, even if their European title defence fizzled out at Atletico Madrid's hands. And finally, Liverpool's implosion this season.
What do you do after 68 consecutive home games unbeaten? You lose the next six, of course. At one point, the Reds seemed likely to catch up to the Premier League record. Considering the state of things right now, that record set by Chelsea, seems frankly ridiculous. An era started by Jose Mourinho, the master of the defensive arts. When you have Petr Cech in goal behind a defence of John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and William Gallas, it isn't difficult to shut out opponents. 15 goals conceded, one loss all season, Premier League champions. Even this season's monstrous Manchester City side has conceded 16 goals with more than 10 games to go. Jose Mourinho. Respect, man!
That record of 86 unbeaten home games was in sight. It was poetic, however, that it was Liverpool who ended Chelsea's home streak, and it was Chelsea who gave Liverpool an unwanted record of a fifth straight home defeat. Defeat to a team mired in the depths of a relegation battle is just the latest installment in their well-documented downfall. Defeat number 6 at home, consecutively!
Injuries. Injuries everywhere..
For the foreseeable future, Jordan Pickford's status in the red half of Liverpool is cemented as public enemy number one. His wild tackle sent Virgil van Dijk to the treatment room. And that has affected the defending champions' entire season. That Pickford went unpunished for that due to an offside from the Dutchman only incensed the fans more. That was a particularly unfortunate game for Liverpool, and for Thiago Alcantara. First, a terrible tackle from Richarlison left him in agony. The Everton forward saw red, and Thiago would miss a considerable amount of games through injury. Still, he shrugged that off a couple minutes later to thread an exquisite pass to Mane, who cut it back for Henderson to score a late winner. The goal, however, was chalked off by the slightest of margins. Modern day offside feat. VAR on Mane.
Joel Matip has been intermittently injured throughout his Liverpool career. It stands, though, that he is particularly good when he does play. It's why they've kept faith in him. But alas, he picked up one more long term injury. It was the final nail after being in and out of the tea with minor niggles. Joe Gomez followed his fellow centre-backs to the sidelines. He got injured while with the England national team. The club's decision to let Dejan Lovren leave without signing his replacement really came back to hurt them.
At least they had Fabinho. The Brazilian did a fabulous job of filling in for the regular centre-backs, and marshalled the young guns Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips. But he, too, got injured. At least, then, they had Jordan Henderson. The Liverpool captain filled in at centre-half, but the curse struck him as well, with an injury ruling him out of the foreseeable future.
Not the best transfers
Liverpool finally decided they needed some defenders this January. In came Ozan Kabak from Schalke 04, and to lesser fanfare, Ben Davies from Preston North End. There were, and still are, doubts about both. Kabak arrived from Schalke 04, who have won just one game in the entire season. He has been part of the Bundesliga's worst defence.
From that position, he has come to the Premier League's defending champions and has rightly struggled. He doesn't have the pace to match the fastest attackers, as multiple forwards have proved. Against Leicester, he was partly at fault as a mix-up with Allison allowed Vardy a clear shot at goal. Then, Harvey Barnes outran the Turk to score Leicester's third.
He's picked up a few yellow cards. And has looked mostly off the pace. He improved in performances against RB Leipzig in the Champions League and the win over Sheffield United in the league. For all his finishing woes, Timo Werner was a constant nuisance for the Liverpool centre-backs. Ben Davies hasn't even made an appearance yet.
If every centre-back is fit, Davies comes out to be about ninth-choice. He was set for a free transfer to Celtic, before Liverpool pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
Maybe he'll get his chance before the season ends, but with Fabinho returning, it seems a little unlikely. Ultimately, it seems like a bit of a futile move from the now surely deposed champions.
Diogo Jota has been a very good signing, however. He, then, was injured too. Consequently, he spent a long time on the sidelines until his substitute appearance against Chelsea.
Thiago, as widely advertised, has failed to impose himself into games. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold mostly orchestrate Liverpool's play. That has not allowed Thiago to run the game like he usually does.
It's not just defence where the problem lies. The attack had faltered too. Roberto Firmino isn't the most prolific striker, but he is the one that makes this strike force tick. His lack of form was a problem that Diogo Jota solved for a time, but that injury left Klopp with the same options again.
Firmino shows flashes of his usual self from time to time, but he has declined. He isn't the same player who played an important part in Liverpool's trophy run. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane have been among the goals, but the overall discomfort surrounding the club has affected them too.
0-1 against Burnley, 0-1 against Brighton, 1-4 against Manchester City, 0-2 against Everton, 0-1 against Chelsea, and 0-1 against Fulham. Other than the Manchester City game, they haven't conceded an awful lot of goals in this six match losing streak.
On the other hand, only one goal scored across these games is a telling statistic. They have become easier to figure out, and that has affected their gameplay and results. Liverpool's weakness to the quick counter is now fairly well-known, and it's a problem that has persisted regardless of the personnel deployed. Right now, they're not playing like the team that conquered England and Europe.
They are playing like the Liverpool of Klopp's early days, crawling to mid-table finishes. There's still the ruthlessness and brilliance of champions underneath. Klopp has to bring that out somehow, or Liverpool are in real danger of missing out on the Champions League unless they win the competition.
The win against Leipzig was quite good, and the Champions League has become a particularly important competition in view of their domestic struggles. It's probably a bit of a relief that their next 'home' game is in Hungary! While pace remains a problem, Kabak's overall game seems to be improving, and he'll be better with Fabinho beside him in what is Liverpool's 19th different centre-back pairing of the season. Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, despite their emergence, haven't really played together yet. The Fulham game provided that opportunity, however, and they formed the 20th different centre-back pairing of the season.
Defence has certainly been a worry, but looking forward to next season, it isn't that bad. Van Dijk and Gomez will eventually be back. Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams have done well when thrust into the limelight suddenly, and at least one of them could hope to keep his spot in the then squad. That sounds like a settled set of central defender options.
Liverpool could do with an overhaul in attack. Sadio Mane and Mo Salah are fantastic players, and adding Diogo Jota in the mix make it a more exciting prospect. However, the likes of Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri aren't up to that mark. Klopp must also tailor their game play to get more out of Thiago - not an easy option when they've been depending on their full-backs and wingers for so long. It's a delicate compromise to work out.
More immediately, they have to try and arrest their slide. A struggling Wolves lie on the other side of the second leg against Leipzig. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Leeds, Manchester United, are all still to come. They can easily finish in the top four, but it won't be easy. Hopefully, the injury returnees can inspire the rest to pull their socks up.