Liverpool in crisis
It has been a nightmare 2021 for Liverpool. Since they beat Crystal Palace on the 19th of December, the reigning champions have taken 12 points from 14 games.
Three points from their last six games puts them 19th in the table in the league’s form guide, only separated from bottom by one goal.
It feels a long time since Jurgen Klopp’s men lifted the Premier League title last July after a 30-year drought.
The season has been an uphill struggle with season-ending injuries for talismanic defender Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
But they have fallen further than anyone could have expected. The Reds were almost faultless for two seasons, taking 196 points across the last two seasons with just four defeats.
Jurgen Klopp led Liverpool to consecutive Champions League finals and established Anfield as a fortress with a 68-game home unbeaten run in the Premier League. But after the abject 1-0 defeat to Fulham, it is now six consecutive defeats at Anfield, which is unprecedented and deserves some evaluation.
But where has it gone wrong?
Liverpool look fatigued. There has been a clear physical drop-off with two- three years of sustained excellence catching up with certain players.
Klopp’s Liverpool have succeeded with a small squad, relying on the likes of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson etc to play every single match.
However, in this particular unforgiving season; where there are matches every three days and there is no time to recuperate, it has shown that when Liverpool suffer injuries to key players, they are unable to trust their back-up players.
The drop-off has been alarming though and it is clear that the champions shouldn’t be as low as eighth and behind sides such as West Ham and Everton who have similarly small squads.
It seems like it’s getting worse, not better.
Another home defeat
Klopp made seven changes against relegation-threatened Fulham, starting inexperienced pair Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams – their 20th central defensive partnership of the season – and Neco Williams at right-back.
It backfired with the Liverpool manager seemingly taking a gamble with the team selection and already thinking about the Champions League second leg against RB Leipzig, which takes on extra significance now.
However, there was no improvement despite the wholesale changes. Mario Lemina’s goal was predictable and Liverpool once again – for the third game running – were unable to score at home.
They have not scored in open play at home since the 27th of December against West Brom – 12 hours of football – and have not won at home in eight games. They have taken just 10 points from a possible 36 in 2021.
The players look fragile and lacking in belief, confidence and assurance – all things that Liverpool specialised in last season.
Fulham became the first newly promoted side to win away at Liverpool in the top-flight since Blackpool beat Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool in 2010.
Eight league defeats in the last 12 games – as many in their previous 121 matches – is relegation form and unacceptable, yet it seems bizarre to suggest that Klopp’s job should be in jeopardy.
He built the side and took them to the top so a rebuild may be in need. But it won’t be easy to go again with an ageing squad and a limited budget, especially without Champions League football.
What’s worrying for Liverpool is that they can’t spend their way out of trouble and despite FSG’s success, they have had to sell to buy and only gave Klopp a few million at the end of January to sign Ozan Kabak on loan and Ben Davies when he needed more support.
Mohamed Salah is the league’s top scorer but he does not look particular happy at the moment, especially when substituted on the hour mark against Chelsea.
It didn’t help that his agent tweeted a cryptic message after he was taken off. The Egyptian is the only player that looks capable of scoring in a Liverpool shirt at the moment.
The famed front three has got stale with Sadio Mane scoring just seven league goals this season and Roberto Firmino looking increasingly forlorn.
Champions League football next season seems unlikely now with the Reds seven points off Chelsea in fourth. They face Leipzig on Wednesday in Budapest with a two-goal lead. The pressure is on for Liverpool to make the quarter-finals and save their season.
Featured image: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Fulham at Anfield. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)