Quite how Liverpool have gone from the highs of last season to the lows of the current campaign remains a question even Jurgen Klopp can’t answer.
A lack of investment has undoubtedly played its part in the almost unrecognisable performance levels being witnessed at present, but this cannot serve as the sole explanation to a drastic decline few saw coming before a ball had been kicked in August.
It truly has been a season of false dawns for Klopp’s side, who responded to a dismal display at Manchester United in August by beating Bournemouth 9-0 the following match, who lost 4-1 away to Napoli and then rallied to overcome Ajax at Anfield six days later. The six-week break for the winter World Cup provided Liverpool with the chance to regroup and attack 2023 in style, though little progress has been made since the turn of the year. Instead, the team have fallen further adrift and now sit tenth in the table.
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Shipping three goals away to Brighton, Brentford and Wolves cannot be pinned on a lack of new signings, however. There are deeper issues at play that have led to Liverpool losing more league matches this term than in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2021/22 combined.
Uncertainty has been a common theme in the last 12 months, starting with speculation over whether or not Mohamed Salah would commit his future to the club or seek a summer exit. It was Sadio Mane who moved on in the end, a transfer that marked the departure of a key figure in the club’s revival while signalling a shift to a new era.
There have, too, been changes behind the scenes – not least the exit of sporting director Michael Edwards, who has since been followed out of the club by individuals heading up the medical department and data science team. Add to the mix unrest relating to FSG and a group of players who were pushed to their limits last year and expected to go again, making sense of Liverpool’s malaise becomes less of a mystery and rather a product of the environment.
While it may feel Liverpool are alone in experiencing this major drop-off in form, a look at other European leagues proves this is certainly not the case. AC Milan, who lifted the Serie A title last season, sit sixth in the Italian top-flight and trail leaders Napoli by a staggering 18 points. Midfielder Franck Kessie was the only summer departure of note for Milan, so what has prompted such an alarming slide?
In Spain, Sevilla celebrated a third successive fourth-placed finish in 2021/22 to secure another year of Champions League football. Out in the group stages of Europe’s elite competition and currently two points above the relegation zone, 2022/23 has been nothing short of a nightmare for the Andalusian club.
Even for sides who have continued to assert their dominance over a number of years, the tide is turning. Club Brugge celebrated their third straight league title last season with former Red Simon Mignolet between the sticks, displaying fighting spirit to deny Royale Union Saint-Gilloise what would have been a remarkable success story. But hopes of retaining their crown are all but over in February. Leaders Genk boast a 21-point advantage over Brugge, who are fourth in the table and have fallen way below expectations.
Only a select few can still find a way to lead the way when being far from their best. Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain have made a habit of strolling to league titles in the last decade, with the former claiming all ten of the last league trophies on offer and the latter missing out on top spot just once during the same period.
The European heavyweights have, perhaps, allowed complacency to creep in – as highlighted by results witnessed during this season. Despite boasting the star-studded front three of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar, PSG suffered defeats to Lens and Rennes last month and were held at home against Reims. Bayern, meanwhile, have a slender lead at the top of the Bundesliga. Union Berlin are hot on the heels in second place, one point behind, while fifth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt find themselves only five points off the summit.
As is often the case in football, all teams reach the end of a cycle. For Liverpool, it seems that moment has arrived and a summer refresh is undoubtedly required. Although Klopp has moved to deny suggestions he has been too loyal to certain individuals during his tenure, the negative impacts of failing to freshen up the squad have become clear for all to see. The Reds’ average age of players used in the Premier League this season is 27, the fourth highest in the division. Sevilla have the second oldest squad in La Liga (28.6) while Club Brugge are third from bottom in Belgium (25.8).
That all three of these sides have been unable to match their achievements of recent years is becoming less of a surprise with each passing week. Intensity may well have been Liverpool’s identity during the Klopp era, but the landscape is changing. Heavy metal football is no longer on the agenda at Anfield as the Reds' boss struggles to get a tune out of his players.
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