Liverpool had never been beaten five times on the trot at Anfield in their entire history, so there was reason to believe Thursday night’s game vs Chelsea will provoke a turnaround.
The Reds were unbeaten in the Premier League at home against the London giants since 2014; nearly seven years in which they’ve either found a way or won the Blues with ease on their turf. At the backend of last season, the corresponding fixture ended 5-3 to Jurgen Klopp’s side on the night they lifted their first Premier League title.
Seven months down the line, however, and the outgoing defending champions are in dire straits, with Thomas Tuchel’s team full value for their 1-0 success on Merseyside.
Mohamed Salah was replaced early in that encounter in July 2020, but the mood was different.
Despite being aware he was unlikely to retain the Golden Boot, knowing he’d played a major part in Liverpool’s rise from battling for Champions League qualification to winning the club’s sixth European crown and finally reigning supreme in England was more than enough.
This year, the Egypt superstar may be in the driver’s seat with 17 goals — Bruno Fernandes (15) and Harry Kane (14) are in pursuit — however, nothing feels the same. The fact he was replaced in the 62nd minute of Thursday’s victory when the Reds were chasing the result was jarring.
Excluding that 5-0 thrashing by Manchester City in September 2017, this was the earliest Klopp has withdrawn the North African in a league game since he joined in that summer.
At the time, Sadio Mane’s early sending off largely forced the German’s hand, and they were already 2-0 down at the time anyway.
Against Chelsea, it seemed strange that the former Borussia Dortmund tactician took off his star man with a draw or a comeback victory within the realms of possibility.
Much has been said about Liverpool’s decline this term but night’s like Thursday accentuate Jay-Jay Okocha’s recent admission over the forward and the club.
The ex-Nigeria international feels the Reds have plateaued and the Egyptian should depart in the summer if a European giant makes overtures.
“If there is a chance to join Barcelona, I advise Salah to go there. His energy has run out with Liverpool,” Okocha told ONTime Sports. “The situation is now regressing in Liverpool, and Salah must leave the Premier League. If there is any chance to join Barcelona, I advise him to go there.”
In fairness, the situation looks really dire in the red half of Merseyside especially after another home defeat which set an unwanted record of five losses on the trot at their hallowed ground. This group that ended 30 years of hurt months ago are now struggling in every sense of the word.
5 - Liverpool have lost five consecutive home games (league and all comps) for the first time in their history, while they're also the first reigning English top-flight champion to lose five home league games in a row. Nosedive. pic.twitter.com/Rg25S3pmC0— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 4, 2021
They sat top of the league at the end of gameweek 14 after blowing Crystal Palace to smithereens 7-0 on December 19, a staggering eight points ahead of Manchester City in eighth. Now, the out-of-confidence outgoing champions are 22 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s irrepressible troops.
While the performances at the start of their poor run since late December deserved better results, recent showings have merited little and it’s safe to say Klopp’s team are in crisis. They looked clueless in trying to break Chelsea down on Thursday, with their only shot on target coming in the 85th minute but Edouard Mendy comfortably saved Georginio Wijnaldum’s header.
Liverpool looked really clueless for the majority of that game. Worrying for Klopp. They're probably the only side in the league who truly miss supporters.— Seye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) March 4, 2021
While their issues run deeper, this malaise would have never lasted with fans at Anfield.
Perhaps the result may have been different had Mane connected to Salah’s lofted through-ball in the 28th minute after Liverpool’s best move of the game. The Reds boss made changes to turn the tide but nothing materialised.
The Egyptian looked really disappointed to be withdrawn so early, a situation his manager tried to explain after the game.
“I could have changed other players as well, that’s true, but the reason for the substitution was [Salah] looked in that moment like he was feeling the intensity really and I didn’t want to risk him, that’s all,” Klopp clarified post-match. “That’s the situation. It’s really rare, I have known him long enough and usually, Mo looks really surprisingly fresh until the end.
“He didn’t look fresh anymore and I thought that’s a sign in our situation, I didn’t want to risk him. That’s it.”
A mysterious tweet by Salah’s agent after his client’s early withdrawal only adds fuel to the fire but the financial realities in a pandemic-hit universe complicate any sort of move to Real Madrid or Barcelona this summer. Still, with two years left on his contract, the former Roma attacker may have a little leverage in this situation if he opts against renewing his deal.
There’s still a lot to play for this season, not least securing a top four finish and going deep in the Champions League, but solutions have to be found promptly if a season that promised so much collapses into rubble.