What's gone wrong with Liverpool? Everything

The Premier League champions have suffered a meltdown, but the problems have been two years in the making - and could have been avoided

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What’s gone wrong with Liverpool? Everything. Jurgen Klopp’s team have suffered a meltdown that has been a long time in the making.

The easiest and most simple explanation for the side’s problems are injuries. They have been a significant factor. The defending Premier League champions have lost a number of key figures whose long-term absences have had a negative impact on the team.

The more complex and painful answer is that the root of the collapse is hubris. This crisis was avoidable. Its roots go back to the Champions League win two years ago. The 3-1 defeat by Leicester City on Sunday and the dip in form since Christmas are symptoms. The malaise started long before this run of poor performances.

The aftermath of the victory over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid two years ago was the perfect time to strengthen the squad. Liverpool were European champions and tradition at the club has always been to build from a position of power. That did not happen.

In the summer of 2019 Liverpool did not invest in players who could challenge the first team. Klopp’s favoured XI were magnificent and went on to win the title but the only addition was Takumi Minamino in January last year.

Liverpool’s brilliant start to last season seemed to confirm that Klopp and Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owners, had made the right decisions. The title was effectively won by the time coronavirus caused the campaign to be suspended last March. The pandemic covered some unpalatable truths, though. Opposition sides had begun to figure out Klopp’s tactics and the team had passed its peak.

In the short close season after winning the title, Liverpool gambled again. They strengthened up front and in midfield by bringing in Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara but those eye-catching signings obscured what proved to be a flawed transfer strategy.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 04: Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool FC at St. James Park on May 04, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Virgil van Dijk's injury has been difficult for Liverpool to overcome. Getty

Dejan Lovren was allowed to leave for Zenit Saint Petersburg. The Croat’s Anfield career was underwhelming but his departure left the club with just three senior centre-backs. Going into the season undermanned in such a crucial area was a foolish risk. It has backfired badly.

Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have suffered long-term injuries. The loss of Van Dijk, in particular, disrupted the balance of the side. The Dutchman was the catalyst that turned Liverpool from also-rans into winners. Losing the 29-year-old was bad enough. The injuries to Gomez and Matip piled on the misery.

Liverpool needed a centre-back more than they needed Jota and Thiago. Everyone involved, from the manager to FSG to Michael Edwards, the sporting director, got it wrong. No club with pretensions to win titles and Champions Leagues can go into a season with just three front-line central defenders.

The issue might have been addressed had Edwards been able to get rid of players who were surplus to requirements to free up cash. He could not make the deals and the likes of Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri remained at the club.

The style of Klopp’s team is unusual. The full-backs are the creative hub. Their effectiveness has been compromised by the insecurity at centre-half. Co-opting midfielders like Fabinho and Jordan Henderson into the back four has further disrupted the balance. Liverpool have lost identity, purpose and belief.

In these circumstances it has been hard to integrate Thiago, an undoubted talent, into the side. The 29-year-old looks like a luxury item who does not have the quickness to thrive in English football. Again, it goes back to the failure to restock the squad and buy players who suit the team’s style.


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The difficulties have been exacerbated by playing in empty stadiums. Klopp’s squad is an emotional group who fed off the spectators in a manner that was more pronounced than any other Liverpool team in club history. Without the crowd they have been flat.

Klopp has a monumental job to turn things around. He is suffering from personal loss – his mother died last month – and a professional crisis. Liverpool face a real battle to finish in the top four.

The 53-year-old German will need to make changes at the end of the season. The paucity of recruitment in the past two summers is manifesting itself now. Liverpool may have to rebuild from a position of weakness after missing the opportunity to reinforce when they were dominant.