It didn’t take long for the doom and gloom to arrive, did it?
As the final whistle sounded at Anfield on Thursday night, the hashtag #FSGOut was trending as Liverpool fans took to Twitter to vent their annoyance at the club’s owners.
Blimey, you might think, is a draw at home to Arsenal really that bad?
- A flexible, big-game grafter: Jesus is the answer to Arsenal's prayers
- Bellingham 2023! Can Liverpool really afford to wait for the ‘perfect’ midfield signing?
- Hit or miss? Rating the Brazilians to have played for Arsenal
- From trialists in flip-flops to five titles in a row: How Juventus changed women's football in Italy
Jurgen Klopp and his players, of course, struck a rather more optimistic tone following the Carabao Cup semi-final, first leg.
“It’s half-time,” Klopp told his post-match press conference. “All to play for next week in London,” posted Virgil van Dijk.
Yet while it would take a brave soul to back against the Reds reaching their first domestic cup final in six years, there is a reason why supporters, whether on social media or otherwise, are feeling a little more pessimistic of late.
To put it simply, they’re beginning to worry that history is repeating itself, and that their long-held fears about investment, squad depth and the reliance on certain individuals are being realised.
The past month has not been kind to Klopp’s side. Since beating Newcastle at Anfield on December 16, Liverpool have played six matches and the only one they’ve won inside 90 minutes was against League One Shrewsbury, in the FA Cup last Sunday.
They’ve dropped seven precious points in the Premier League and, on Thursday, failed to overcome a heavily-depleted Arsenal side that played three-quarters of the match with 10 men following Granit Xhaka’s red card.
Cause for concern? You’d have to say so, especially with memories of last season fresh in the mind.
Liverpool, remember, topped the table last Christmas, but didn’t win another league match until January 28, by which time they had slipped out of title contention, surrendered their proud unbeaten home league record and been knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United.
The situation is not quite so bad this time around, of course, but Sunday’s home clash with Brentford is an important one. A win is necessary, and a convincing performance would not go amiss either.
Certainly, the display against Arsenal did little to dispel fears that the next few weeks will be a struggle without the club’s Africa Cup of Nations stars, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.
Klopp may not like it, but when you have only one shot on target against 10 men, and it comes in the 92nd minute, the questions are only going to get louder.
“Any team in the world would miss those players,” he admitted afterwards, though it was his suggestion that Liverpool could not have been better prepared to cope with their absence which stood out more.
Plenty would disagree on that one. Rewind, if you will, to last summer, when many of the things we are talking about now were being discussed at length, whether on social media, on podcasts, radio phone-ins or by writers, correspondents and television pundits.
How much, for example, would Liverpool miss Gini Wijnaldum’s skills and durability? Are Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi viable understudies for Salah and Mane? Could James Milner continue to defy Father Time, and was it really wise to bank on the likes of Keita, Thiago Alcantara and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain staying fit?
These were all fair questions in July and August, and they are fair questions now.
Liverpool are not in a bad place – still in the title race (just), still in the FA Cup, one game away from a League Cup final and with a Champions League last 16 tie against Inter to look forward to – but could they, with a little more investment, be in a better one?
The answer is yes.
They continue to move smartly in the transfer market. Diogo Jota was a gem of a signing, and both Kostas Tsimikas and Ibrahima Konate have added depth in key areas.
Thiago was nabbed from the reigning European champions and is a proven world-class performer, while Harvey Elliott and Kaide Gordon are two of the most exciting teenagers in the country.
They do good business, but do they do enough of it? They’re a fine team, coached superbly, but they continue to rely heavily on the same players, season after season, and the ones they would love to rely on more – Thiago and Keita, most notably – simply aren’t there often enough.
Others, like Minamino for example, are just not the answer, and probably never will be.
For all Klopp’s claims about how good the Japanese international looks in training, and for all the promise shown in occasional Carabao Cup outings, the fact is that Minamino was loaned out to Southampton last season, and that he has started only four Premier League games for the club since joining in January 2020. Even off the bench, Klopp rarely turns to him when a game is finely poised.
Origi is more useful as a substitute, as we know, but let’s not over-egg the Belgian’s contribution either.
He has 21 league goals in six-and-a-half years and would have been sold either last summer or the one before had a decent offer arrived.
He will almost certainly leave at the end of this season – although Liverpool do have the option to extend his contract by a year, should he reach a set amount of appearances.
This is the real challenge facing Klopp and Liverpool’s staff, led currently by Michael Edwards, but which will have a new man, Julian Ward, at the helm from May.
Not only do they have key contract decisions to make (Salah, Mane, Firmino, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain are all up in less than 18 months), but they also need to plan for the future while refreshing the present.
Not an envious task, with Manchester City hurtling off into the distance and with Chelsea an ominous presence alongside. How do you compete with that, you might wonder.
Liverpool did. Liverpool are. They were ‘champions of everything’ not so long ago, don't forget.
If they are to get back to such lofty heights, they'll need to start refreshing soon. The reliance on Salah and Mane cannot go on forever.