football

Liverpool’s alarming slump threatens more than title hopes as top-four panic grows


The champions of England, already so devoid of confidence, would do well not to look at the Premier League’s form table over the past five fixtures.

Just over a month ago, Liverpool were considered overwhelming favourites to be crowned the division’s best again after a 7-0 exhibition against Crystal Palace.

Since that game at Selhurst Park, Jurgen Klopp’s men have found the net once from 89 shots.

They have failed to score in four league games on the spin for the first time since the 1999-00 season.

Whatever way you slice it, there is no pretty picture here.

And bar the hosting of Manchester United, the fixture list has been kind to Liverpool – West Brom, Newcastle, Southampton, Burnley – yet they have been foiled on repeat, while copying and pasting poor decision-making in the final third.

“We have to get better in the decisive moments again, we have to become ourselves again,” Klopp conceded following the 1-0 defeat to Burnley, which ended the club’s 68-game unbeaten record at Anfield that had stood since April 2017.

“In the last third, in the last moment, the decision-making is in the moment not how it should be.

“We can play much better football. The confidence is not on the highest level, I think that is so obvious that I don’t have to mention it – you can see it in specific moments.

“It is like 90 per cent of all what the boys did all of the time is still there, but the decisive 10 per cent in the moment is missing. So, now we have to work on this decisive 10 per cent. That’s how it is – we always work on them, but now we have to dig a little bit deeper to get them back.”

That Liverpool are still missing the key trio of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Diogo Jota is one massive problem, but even more of an issue is the fact that so many of the available players are a shadow of themselves.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane are suffering the kind of dip they’ve never endured at Liverpool, while Roberto Firmino’s celebrated influence on the system has receded.

“It’s incredible how consistent the boys were, but that was never something that anybody should have taken for granted because now we see they are all human beings,” Klopp said.

Liverpool’s ‘mentality monsters’ do look exhausted after a relentless two seasons, tagged on by a Covid-shaped campaign that has greatly increased their injury concerns, reduced recovery times and needed them to battle against the loss of their colossus Van Dijk, Gomez as well as Jota, Thiago, Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Fabinho, Alisson and Jordan Henderson for large spells.

Mohamed Salah reacts after defeat to Burnley

(Getty)

Klopp admitted it is not an easy situation to rectify and absorbed the blame for Liverpool no longer having credence in their offensive powers.

While the season has been so unpredictable to this point, with both Manchester clubs having already navigated a slump, Mikel Arteta steering Arsenal away from one and Frank Lampard in danger of being sacked at Chelsea, it can be concretely said that the Merseysiders haven’t looked or played like champions over the past month.

That is not to say they won’t be or are incapable of a mighty strong turnaround – Liverpool did become the masters in responding to setbacks – but the current situation invites fears about the top-four tussle, let alone retaining the championship.

As Klopp himself put it: “Look, how silly would that be if I sit here now, losing against Burnley, didn’t score for the last four games and talk about the title race? How silly would that be?

“It’s just we have to win football games – it was always like this. For this we have to score goals, there is no doubt about it. That’s what we have to change and have to do better.

“If things don’t work, you have to work harder, do the right things more often, longer and more consistent, all these kind of things. But I’m not talking like it is an easy situation, it’s not. It shows a lot of things.

Klopp reacts as Liverpool struggle against Burnley

(POOL/AFP)

“The boys have the right information, they get the right information, but when I say it is my fault maybe I was not convincing enough, I could not give enough confidence, that’s my job as well.

“I cannot say we are not confident enough and then say, ‘I don’t know why that happened.’ That is how I understand the job. It is about crossing in the right moment, passing in the right moment and all these kind of things.

“It is not rocket science, but obviously it didn’t happen again.”

Making the right decision in the final third needs to become elementary for Liverpool instantly, with an FA Cup fourth-road trip to United followed by away league trips to Tottenham and West Ham.

February is no kinder, with a home match against City before Leicester and RB Leipzig away.

After that is the Merseyside derby at Anfield and Liverpool will be hoping that a run of more expansive opponents allows them to find their stride and survey the form table with more pride.



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