Klopp seems to have failed in ensuring that Liverpool put forth an admirable defence for their English Premier League. Injuries have surely worsened the situation, but that can’t be the scapegoat.
In 2020 around this time, when there was talk for the first time regarding possible lockdowns, football fans in England had their own unique dilemma to ponder about. Liverpool was way ahead of the rest of the pack. Had the game not been paused for a few months then, the club from Merseyside would surely have had the title wrapped up much earlier. As it happened, the English Premier League was paused for a couple of months and when the game restarted, Liverpool were crowned champions within a few weeks. This season, however, Liverpool have failed in their title defense, and are far from that and struggling hard to even make it to the top four.
Let us understand the key reasons for this sudden decline in form:
Liverpool’s Highlight of the Season: Injuries
Roy Keane, ex-Manchester United great and present TV pundit may disagree but then, there are injuries, AND there are injuries. The spate of them suffered by Liverpool is unprecedented in recent years, not because of their sheer numbers, but because of the positions where they occur in. It’s not uncommon for teams to face 6-7 injuries at a time, given the strains of modern football. But where Liverpool suffered was that almost all these injuries were caused to defenders. So while modern squads can cope with 2 midfielders, 2 defenders, and 1 forward missing, when all injuries occur in defence, and especially in the middle of it, almost no one can cope. The likes of Gomez, Matip, Henderson, Fabinho, Allison, and the team colossus van Dijk have all missed massive chunks of this season, which played a part in the abysmal Liverpool title defense.
Watch: How injuries made it worse for Liverpool to retain their title
Most top-end football managers have their own unique brand of the game. Jurgen Klopp tends to rely a lot on pace, running and hard pressing. His teams typically begin with a solid defence, a hard-working though pedestrian midfield, and sharp goal scorers upfront. As a result, his teams tire out early after a few intensive seasons. This was the trend at Dortmund too. At Liverpool, barring in the middle, rotation too seems not to have been done much, leading to further player burnout.
Klopp had No Plan B
This point is a continuation of the previous one. Managers and teams that have been successful over time, have improvised to an extent where they may evolve their tactics periodically. Liverpool and Klopp need to work out a slight modification of the present approach. This year’s clear English table-toppers Manchester City and their manager Pep Guardiola seem to have succeeded well in improvising on their tested playing styles.
Limited Integration of New Signings
In this regard, Liverpool’s title defense seems to have fallen prey to their own recent success. Incredibly they managed their 2019-20 title triumph without spending a single penny in the summer of 2019. Even their previous big-ticket signings like Virgil van Dijk and Allison Becker were made from the proceeds of the Felipe Coutinho sale. In 2020, Liverpool broke free from this trend by spending fairly big on 2 big-name attacking midfielders. Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara were supposed to add guile to a workman-like midfield. But those two midfielders do not seem well-integrated. They have both been unlucky with injuries. Alcantara especially seems to be struggling with the Klopp- ball or Gegenpressing style.
Liverpool’s Ambitions Paused
It will be really unfair to label the present Liverpool team as lacking ambition. Simply speaking, an unambitious unit does not make 2 consecutive Champions’ League finals, winning the 2nd of them. However, it will perhaps be fair to comment that winning the title in 2020, took a massive emotional toll. The city of Liverpool had been waiting for a first title since 1990. They had come close a few times, but the longer it went on without the title, the emptiness felt greater. Finally, when it was registered, an entire era drew to a close. So, it was natural for some efforts to slag off. The fans weren’t even able to celebrate the victory in the open thanks to the pandemic, and its implied social distancing norms. With emotions eventually cooling off, the players here will surely find their focus once again.