In the spring, all seemed well for Liverpool. The team had won the League Cup and FA Cup, faced Manchester City in the English Premier League and reached the Champions League final.
For weeks history was talked about as Jurgen Klopp’s men, dubbed the ‘monsters of mentality’ by the manager, were in contention for all four major trophies until the very end of the season.
In the end, two trophies went to Anfield instead of four, as Liverpool lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League and dropped a league point.
But there were few signs that, a few months later, things would play out the way they did for the Merseysiders.
For years Liverpool were the only team to challenge City for the league title – winning it in 2020 – but this season Liverpool and City are worlds apart.
A 2-1 home loss to Leeds on Saturday made a miserable start to the season worse for Liverpool, a side now in the bottom half of the table, 13 points behind City and needing a push to even finish in the top four to guarantee qualification for the Champions League next season.
A title bid is effectively complete before Halloween – unthinkable at the start of the season given Liverpool’s consistency since Klopp’s arrival at Anfield. It’s set to become a season to forget for the Reds.
“You can’t qualify for the Champions League if you play as inconsistently as we are doing at the moment,” Klopp told the BBC after Leeds lost, Liverpool’s third in the last five matches. championship. “We have to settle this.
“So many things don’t look like us right now. I’m sorry it’s like this, but that’s the situation. I don’t know how deep you can dig, but we will. That’s how it is and we will work on solutions, we have to take a look at this game first, try to understand it a bit more and go from there.
Mo Salah had equalized for Liverpool in the first half after Rodrigo had given Leeds a fourth-minute lead. A late goal from Crysencio Summervile, however, in the 89th minute secured a win for Leeds which knocked the team out of the relegation zone and ended Liverpool’s 29-game unbeaten run at home.
So why are Liverpool struggling so much in the league this season? Their form in the Champions League has been good, beating Ajax 3-0 in midweek to advance to the knockout stages, but in the Premier League defeats are more common than wins.
There was the 1-0 league win over City which many thought could spark a slow start to the campaign, but that win – courtesy of a wonderful strike from Salah – now feels like a long time ago, rather than a few weeks.
Sadio Mane’s departure to Bayern Munich in the summer has undoubtedly had an impact – he was Klopp’s first major signing and has become a key player for his goals, assists and relentless pressing.
Darwin Nunez, who could become the club’s record signing, has been bought to replace Mane and despite having an indifferent start to his Liverpool career – sent off in his first home game – he has scored goals, but he is still an integral part of the team like Mane once was.
There are the injured, of course. Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz – players who breathed so much verve into the forward line as the team ruthlessly racked up wins last season – are long-time absentees.
Naby Keita, the club’s most dynamic midfielder, is yet to make a league appearance this season, while captain Jordan Henderson suffered an injury against Ajax on Wednesday.
“We had problems from day one (of the season), regarding injuries. Players had to play from day one. This is our situation and that means we have to help each other, and that’s what we will do,” Klopp told reporters, according to Reuters.
“Harvey (Elliott) has been outstanding for us this season. He got off to a good start but couldn’t continue. it remains.”
Key players have also been far from their best. Virgil van Dijk, one of the club’s greatest signings, has been guilty of unusual mistakes – and terrible misses in front of goal, a missed header against Nottingham Forest last weekend, for example, in another costly defeat .
The Dutchman’s downfall means the defense is more vulnerable than ever and not protected like it once was as Fabinho – usually another top player – is also outstanding in his midfield role defensive.
Where there was once a midfield of Fabinho, Henderson and the late Georginio Wijnaldum – a triumvirate that set the tempo for the high-octane football that Klopp wants to play – there is now little of that energy and of this bite in the middle of the park.
Former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness was stark in his assessment of his former team, telling Sky Sports that Liverpool were “bullied” in midfield.
“You can say it was a lucky first goal, but that’s not why Liverpool lost the game, Liverpool were a mile away from where they’ve been for the past few years: they don’t play with the same I think, in many cases tonight, Leeds was more than a game for what Liverpool had done to teams for years.
“They basically bullied the Liverpool teams, the midfield teams bullied. Now they are bullied in midfield which makes them vulnerable at the back and they don’t create the same chances up front. Liverpool is a shadow.
He added: “When you look at the midfield of Thiago 31, Henderson 31, Fabinho 29 and after that you have Keita 27, (Alex) Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been injured, 29, Curtis Jones who is 21 years old and Harvey Elliott who is 19 years old.
“If you go back to the start of the season, Jurgen must have looked at his midfield and felt ‘we’re vulnerable here’ because with the age group there’s a chance they’ll get muscle injuries. After that , you have the two young boys.
“The Premier League is a very tough league to play in and it’s nine long, tough months, sometimes physically and mentally, for you. To expect two young lads to come and guide you when senior players are injured is a big deal. Harvey Elliott has played in almost every game.
“I’ve been saying this since the start of the season, I felt the midfielder is no longer the midfielder who can get them into the position where they’re going to win the big trophies.”
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