"We have still space for improvement" seemed a statement of the obvious from Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool were eliminated from the FA Cup on Sunday. The manner of the defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion may be one Klopp can just about stomach – a last-minute winner, but a much-improved performance compared to Liverpool's 3-0 defeat at the Amex Stadium on January 14 – but it still constitutes further proof of a team in decline.
Sunday's FA Cup exit follows their surrender of the League Cup – another trophy they won in 2021/22 – in the last 16. The Reds are ninth in the Premier League at the halfway stage with no chance of challenging for the title and even struggling to finish in the top four to secure qualification for next season's Champions League.
Holders Real Madrid are the visitors to Anfield for the Champions League second round next month, raising the real possibility that, a season after they nearly won everything, Liverpool could end this one with nothing.
And while some natives are restless and even calling for Klopp's removal, it would be a huge shock if the German was not given the opportunity to turn things around.
By any metric Liverpool's season has been poor but especially when compared to the previous one when Klopp's side went agonisingly close to winning four trophies. And yet it's clear that the energy exerted in chasing an unprecedented quadruple has taken a huge toll on the squad this season.
Liverpool are the Premier League's fifth highest scorers and rank second for number of shots with 314 yet are first for big chances missed (44). They are ranked second for number of times dispossessed (220) and 19th for number of tackles. Depending on how you interpret, the stats could suggest a lethargy in possession and when trying to retrieve the ball, and also a lack of composure and clarity of thought in front of goal.
Injuries have been a factor. The loss of Luis Diaz has been crushing and Diogo Jota's unavailability leaves Klopp shorn of versatility across the front three. Sadio Mane's departure to Bayern Munich seemed bad business at the time and even more questionable seven months on.
Brighton v Liverpool ratings
Two signings – Darwin Nunez last summer and Cody Gakpo in January – for fees that could eventually cost Liverpool upwards of £120 million have either flattered to deceive or been deployed in positions not best suited to their attributes. Both are 23, and need to be afforded time to settle into a new country and league, especially when the rest of the team is struggling to fire on all cylinders.
But Nunez, in particular, looks in need of a clearly defined role within the team, especially when Gakpo has been preferred as the spear of the attack even when the Uruguayan is introduced off the bench. Gakpo caught the eye at the Qatar World Cup operating in a free role between midfield and attack that saw him score in each of the Netherlands' three group games but accommodating the former PSV player in that role would require a change of formation by Klopp.
A drop off in performance levels by mainstays Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk was, perhaps, to be expected, especially since the latter three were involved at the World Cup for Brazil, England and Netherlands respectively. Yet none of those concerns were adequately addressed in either the summer of winter transfer windows.
"We make steps but we have to improve, we have to improve further and that's what we will do," Klopp said after the defeat at Brighton. With Wolves next up in the Premier League on Saturday, Liverpool need to rediscover the winning formula fast to try and salvage a season that was always going to be impossible to live up to the previous one.