Liverpool are enduring a miserable season and are stuck in a rut of their own making – but the cause of their struggles is the matter of debate within the club.
The Reds have won just one of their seven games across all competitions in 2023 and are winless in their past four Premier League matches. Jurgen Klopp’s side sit 10th in the league table – a whopping 11 points adrift of the top four, albeit with a game in hand.
They were thrashed 3-0 by Wolves on the weekend, with the match summing up the extent of their problems. Calamitous defending from Joel Matip and Joe Gomez undermined their cause, while the blunt attack of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo made it three league games without a goal; their top scorer since the World Cup is Leicester City defender Wout Faes.
Liverpool are being hampered by injuries, with seven first-team players currently sidelined, but fitness issues alone cannot be blamed for the deep-set malaise at the club. A Merseyside derby awaits on the weekend against an Everton side buoyed by the arrival of Sean Dyche as manager and a 1-0 win over league-leaders Arsenal.
Although it has worsened since the World Cup, poor form has been a problem all season. Earlier in the campaign there were many pundits and fans who blamed much of it on the sale of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich in the summer.
Mane scored 120 goals in 269 appearances for Liverpool during a spell at the club which saw him win six major trophies. He left for Bayern in a £35.1million transfer in June, breaking up the much-vaunted front line with Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool did not initially want to sell Mane, but they negotiated a deal with Bayern after the 30-year-old made it clear he wanted to leave after six years at the club. During the period, Klopp always insisted he was content with the business. He said that Liverpool granted Mane’s wish and they parted ways on good terms.
Nevertheless, there was a pang of regret in his words after Liverpool made a slow start to the season. Speaking with Sky Germany in October, Klopp said: “A good guy and a top player. But missing it sounds like I still want him here. I think it's really okay that Sadio just wanted to do something different.
"Absolutely. I totally respect that. The way it went was great. We knew that he would do something different without breaking up badly. That must be possible in life.
HAVE YOUR SAY! Are Liverpool missing Sadio Mane this season? Comment below.
"That's exactly what happened. Missing? Yes! But I'm happy too. That he's where he wanted to be. We'll solve our problems here. Sadio is an outstanding player. Everyone in Munich saw that too. He's absolutely world-class. Everything will be fine."
Everything has not been fine for Liverpool. Injuries suffered by Firmino, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, as well as recent illness for Fabio Carvalho, have left Klopp short of options in attack.
Previously known for their vibrant, multi-faceted attack, Liverpool have scored just seven times in their last eight games in all competitions – and two of those came from the boot of Faes in a fortuitous win over Leicester.
Virgil van Dijk, who is himself also injured, spoke about Mane in October. Back then he was still confident that Diaz and Nunez, among others, would pick up the slack left by the former Southampton man.
“That’s funny, but I don’t think it’s that personally,” he told Sky Sports when asked about Mane’s departure. “Obviously Sadio was a massive player for us, but he wanted to leave, it’s not that we wanted to let him go.
“We have players that have come in. Luis Diaz, outstanding. Darwin is getting to know how we really want to defend from the front and the importance of when we have the ball and when we don’t have the ball. It takes a bit of time in this case, but I don’t think that’s the exact reason why we are not performing.”
Mane contributed 11 goals and four assists in 23 games for Bayern before suffering an injury which ruled him out of the World Cup in November. The Senegalese international is yet to feature for Bayern this year, but is working his way back on the training pitch ahead of a potential return at the end of February.
If he picks up where he left off earlier this season in front of goal then the Mane question is likely to rear its head back on Merseyside.