For a city synonymous and renowned worldwide as the home of The Beatles, instead it has been heavy metal football more so than Beatlemania that supporters of Liverpool Football Club have pinned their hopes on in bringing back the glory days to Anfield. A term coined shortly after former Borussia Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp took charge of the red half of Liverpool, initial signs suggested that both Liverpool fans and players alike happily embraced such an intensity equal to that of heavy metal music and rather than merely being a supporting act as part of a much larger festival, there existed real potential that Liverpool may one day top the Premier League bill themselves.
Yet in a similar fashion to an emerging act still trying to find its feet in the music industry, the road can most certainly be a bumpy one and with this in mind Liverpool have struggled significantly. From sitting first in the league and looking like the greatest competition to leaders Chelsea to being suddenly dumped out of both the EFL and FA Cup within the same week and free falling down the league to almost outside of the top four, all it has merely took is for one defeat in the league at the turn of the calendar year to turn a relatively successful season prior to January into nothing short of a disaster. With alarm bells therefore ringing louder than ever before during Klopp’s time at the club following a run of several defeats in all competitions, you’d now surely expect not only Klopp and his Liverpool players but also his backroom staff and club hierarchy to delve deeper into the recently and widely reported issues at hand in order to keep the club on the straight and narrow – both this season and for future league campaigns.
To attract the calibre of player that transfer rumours have repeatedly linked Liverpool with ever since Klopp took over at the club, ultimately you would think that finishing the top four is imperative. After a fine start to the season which put Liverpool well in the mix as title challengers, victories over their closest contenders for the Premier League trophy as well as a fully-firing trident of Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, things looked promising for Liverpool even without looking at the club through rose tinted glasses. Spectacle after spectacle was what they initially produced on the pitch with a manager whose touchline passion clearly resonates with The Kop – even if that does lead to having your trademark glasses snapped midway through such an euphoric celebration. A disappointing defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League final formed merely just one part of an incredibly disappointing end to 2015/16 but with Klopp now seemingly, fully settled into life at the club, the future looked extremely bright and the foundations were set for the Merseyside club to really push on under Klopp this time around – barring any unexpected slip-up’s of course…
After Saido Mané started to show he was more than capable of taking his talents to the next level after moving to the club from Southampton last summer, likewise Coutinho and Firmino soon began to show their former club sides just what they were missing with numerous stand-out performances to propel Liverpool into the top four equal to the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. And whilst Chelsea on the other hand began to run rampage and started to look almost unstoppable, nonetheless with the way that Liverpool had started to show regularly how well they could attack, you’d have had a strong bet prior to the turn of the calendar year on Liverpool being the most capable of overturning Chelsea’s ever-growing lead at the top of the Premier League, let alone finishing comfortably in the top four and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League once again.
So what has gone so catastrophically wrong at the club in the last eight weeks to completely flip Liverpool’s season on its head? Conversely was it the array of standout, match-winning performances by the likes of Liverpool’s front three that if anything helped cover the cracks and hide the real issues at the heart of the club? In a similar sense of parting with credit as and when it is due, you could arguably say that same applies with both guilt and blame but who can be deemed culpable for the club’s, what is effectively, mid-season collapse this league campaign? The players, the manager, the board, the fans, the weather, the fixture list, money in the game, the Football Association, Wayne Shaw? So many questions yet very few answers.
In modern football there often isn’t just one explanation with a manager rightly defending his players in the event of underperformance and vice versa. Objectively speaking, for any football fan it is however clear that it’s actually down to a whole host of different reasons why Liverpool have veered off course in recent weeks; an amalgamation if you like, of issues both on and off the pitch which have both formed recently and festered for some time behind the scenes, only coming to a head as the club encountered a difficult period since the start of the New Year.
In what can be viewed as a mid-term health check, there are clearly defensive issues at the club which not only need addressing in the upcoming summer transfer window but widely speaking, perhaps should have been rectified in January. The likes of Klavan and Lovren at centre-half may have their doubters but that is only due to the performances they have put in this season. Letting Sakho leave on transfer deadline day to Crystal Palace publicly exposed Liverpool’s lack of depth in defensive areas with both Emre Can and Lucas, not forgetting a player that looked to have had his bags packed last summer for a move to the Italian Serie A or even his native Brazil, filling in at the heart of defence.
In the versatile James Milner meanwhile, Liverpool may have made a left-back out of a more conventional left-sided midfielder but with the former Manchester City man merely filling in to fit the needs of the club you would therefore think that along with Milner’s former club and cross-city rivals Manchester United, they’ll be looking to recruit a more naturally talented left sided full back as soon as possible. Besides Liverpool’s defence, overall squad depth is an important area that Klopp must address in the summer for the good of the club going forward. At Dortmund, Klopp may well have had both the time and a much lesser level of competition when compared to the English top flight to blood youngsters and give them their chance as opposed to signing players with substitute or reserve positions in mind. Yet due to the nature of English football, an already jam-packed fixture list looks set to be even busier if Liverpool, as it looks currently, qualify for European football, making the need for squad depth even greater.
Admittedly you do feel that in his position Klopp may feel somewhat frustrated at not being able to do right for wrong and for this reason clearly many can sympathise with top-flight managers. Either respond to critics of the Premier League by giving young players a chance but risk maintaining winning ways or on the flip side simply throw money at the problem in order to keep Liverpool performing at their optimum level in the short-term but with little consideration of bringing players through the academy for the future. Yet whilst there’s no problem in trying to balance young and old, potential and experience and both shrewd yet necessary transfer business, for any chance of success you feel Liverpool need to be content with putting out a substitute bench week in, week out as if it was a cup final each game and not a pre-season friendly.
Of course meaning no discredit whatsoever to the number of clearly talented individuals at the club with their continuous conveyer belt of young talent producing stars season upon season, on paper it may seem great and perhaps even admirable for Klopp to be giving the likes of Woodburn, Grujic and Ojo a chance at the highest level but the romance of it all is quickly lost when the result doesn’t go the club’s way. If anything, as is the cut thrust nature of being a club in the top tier of English football, all it can take is for a young academy substitute to either miss a golden goalscoring opportunity when in search of an all important goal or to concede at the other end when trying to see all three, or even the one point out of a game and their confidence is destroyed.
Then again, what option does Jürgen Klopp have if Daniel Sturridge doesn’t fit in the manager’s favour for whatever reason or continues to struggle with injury has proven right throughout the German’s spell at the club thus far. A learning curve it may be and one that might be necessary for the development of all clubs at no matter what level but in a results driven industry, one does think that a team fulfilling their current potential this season can be seen as that little bit more important, at least in the short-term, for a club like Liverpool.
Being careful what you wish for meanwhile is another buzz phrase that’s often used most notably with reference to recruitment at a club. Whether that be from above in terms of changes to a manager, board or backroom staff or simply deciding either to purchase or sell a certain individual in a given transfer window, the crux bring that no matter how passionate you feel about any kind of change that the long-term consequences of making such a call must at least be considered fully before conducting any transfer business. Squad recruitment must therefore be scrutinised heading forward and whether Klopp and his predecessors have invested wisely enough to make Liverpool a force to be reckoned with in the future. The signings of Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mané have done well to revitalise a Liverpool side that looked somewhat depleted under Brendan Rodgers but you can’t help but feel that a greater level of recruitment is required next season too.
The summer will therefore prove key for Liverpool in terms of their future development but in a similar sense, so will the end of the current league season for where the club ends up both in the transfer window and whether or not they end up capable of reaching either the UEFA Champions or Europa League next season. In the meantime, after an incredibly difficult start to 2017 you’d think it would take more than a few paracetamol to cure Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool headache and for the good of the club’s future, here’s hoping that the amalgamation of mounting problems are sorted sooner rather than later.