You know these are strange times when Jurgen Klopp finds himself agreeing with a journalist’s assessment of his team’s performance. The Liverpool boss often bristles when others attempt to dissect, point fingers or draw conclusions, but he could only nod when it was suggested to him that his side had looked “chaotic” during their 3-3 draw with Brighton on Saturday.
“You’re right,” came the reply, before a damning follow up. “And if we are 100 percent honest, it is not the first time.”
Klopp will reach his seventh anniversary as Reds manager next week, but whether he’ll feel much like celebrating is another matter. It has, for the most part, been a wonderful journey, but these are testing times at Anfield. Whether it’s a temporary blip or something deeper, Klopp has plenty to think about, and plenty to sort.
At times against Brighton, he said, he was transported back to those early days on Merseyside, when confidence was low, results were patchy and, as he so memorably put it, “nobody liked the team, not even the team itself.”
Back then, he pointed out, a one-goal lead was enough to cause “heart attacks” around Anfield, so poor were Liverpool at closing games out. “We were just not convincing,” Klopp recalled, and it will have pained him to compare this current side, highly-trained, expensively-assembled and with the medals to show for their efforts, to that 2015 mish-mash.
That’s where they are right now, though, and Saturday served only to underline their struggles, as they scramble about for confidence, form and momentum. “A moment we have to go through together,” Klopp said. This is Liverpool, his Liverpool, but certainly not as we know them.Getty
Nine games into the new season, there have been only three wins, and two of those came courtesy of late goals. They’re ninth in the Premier League, 11 points off top spot and closer to Everton, Brentford and Nottingham Forest than they are to Manchester City. It may be early, and similar comments were made to look daft last term, but the idea of a title challenge already looks fanciful. Absurd even.
To be honest, they’ll do well to even finish in the top four playing like this. While their rivals go through the gears, Liverpool find themselves stuck frustratingly in neutral. They know exactly what they need to do, exactly what they’re capable of and exactly what their manager expects of them but, for whatever reason, the wheels just aren’t turning as they used to.
Their problems are myriad, too many of them to count. Key players are floundering while others are struggling to step up to the plate. The energy has gone, the foundations have weakened and the growing suspicion is that if this isn’t a team in transition, then it is one in decline.
Certainly, it feels like there is a major hangover from last season, when Klopp’s side came within a whisker of a historic quadruple. The cost of that quest, both physically and mentally, can be seen in Liverpool’s performances during the opening weeks of this campaign. They fought so hard for so long, but it looks like it might have taken everything out of them.
How else do you explain the fact that pretty much all of the Reds’ key men are struggling at the same time? This isn’t just about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defending or Mohamed Salah’s goalscoring, this is a group of players who have lost what made them special, whose confidence has gone and whose legs look shaky. Whether it’s Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson, James Milner, Salah or Alexander-Arnold, the standard has dropped.Getty
You can see it in the drop in intensity, the complete breakdown of the pressing game which for so long has been Liverpool’s hallmark.
It was, according to Klopp, “horrendous, horrible to watch” the ease with which Brighton played through them on Saturday, exposing the hosts’ lack of organisation in quite brutal fashion. Roberto De Zerbi’s side are certainly not the first to do that this season, and Arsenal and Manchester City, the Reds’ next two league opponents, should offer little respite. The likes of Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne, Bukayo Saka and Erling Haaland will be licking their lips.
“We are under pressure,” admitted Klopp. “We don’t try to increase it every day, but it is there. We want to improve, but that only happens when we perform.”
How does he fix things, then? He spoke of “reinvention” following the Champions League defeat to Napoli last month, and his side responded with an encouraging display and victory over Ajax, but Saturday looked like more of the same, a disjointed display, littered with errors and punished with more dropped points. One step forward, two steps back. So frustrating, for the manager and his fans.(C)Getty Images
There is no pressure on Klopp from within Liverpool, it should be said. This is not Chelsea, where a manager is sacked at the first hint of trouble. Klopp has as much credit in the bank as any manager in the game, and rightly so. What he has done with this club, this team, has been magnificent.
He will get time to turn things around, and you’d be brave to bet against him doing so, but if Fenway Sports Group are paying close attention to what is going on, they will surely realise that time is one thing, support and backing is another, and that Klopp is going to need plenty of both in the transfer market going forward.
He didn’t get enough of it in the summer, when a new midfielder was an absolute necessity, and the cost of that has been seen since. Liverpool are better than they are currently showing, but they are going to need a fair bit of surgery soon, with contracts expiring, key men ageing and rivals making big moves.
In the meantime, all they can do is try to work and play their way into form. Rangers visit Anfield on Tuesday. Arsenal and City are on the horizon. Big games which Klopp will hope bring out a big response from his side.
This team isn’t dead yet, not by a long chalk, but the warning lights are most certainly flashing. They have been since the first whistle at Fulham in August.
The question now is how much damage will be done by the time they get the car started again.