Liverpool crashed out of the FA Cup following a 3-2 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford, compiling misery on what has been a dismal new year for the champions. With an away trip to Tottenham on the horizon, Liverpool’s fixture list is showing no sign of relenting and the Reds need to rediscover their form quickly before their season spirals out of control.
After 19 games in the 2019/20 season, Liverpool had accumulated a whopping 55 points, 21 points more than what they have at the same point this season. What is to blame for such a dramatic drop-off?
The first reason could be the remarkable number of injuries they have faced this season, particularly in the centre back department. Having lost Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long term injuries, Liverpool have had to continuously chop and change their backline. While Fabinho has filled the role adequately, Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have failed to cover themselves in glory. Rhys Williams’ deficiencies were abundantly clear following his shaky performance at Old Trafford; he is simply not ready for this level.
The performance left fans furious that a new centre back has not been signed despite Jurgen Klopp admitting he wanted reinforcements this month. It seems the German coach is resigned that Liverpool will have to make do with their current options.
The absence of Van Dijk and Joe Gomez has completely changed the dynamic of the team
It may be argued that Liverpool’s recent issues are their lack of goals instead of their defending, although it is important not to overlook the impact Van Dijk has on this team on all areas of the pitch. The Reds have lost the Dutchman’s progressive passing and his incredible ability to win headers, thus allowing Liverpool to sustain pressure when trying to break down low blocks. Van Dijk was also a huge attacking threat from set-pieces, with five Premier League goals last season, Van Dijk was Liverpool’s 4th top scorer behind the usual suspects in Mane, Salah, and Firmino.
Finally, the absence of Van Dijk and Gomez has completely changed the dynamic of the team. This is because Liverpool can no longer deploy their usual high line, making it more difficult for them to get up the pitch. With Fabinho and Jordan Henderson filling in at centre back, Liverpool are also losing two of their best midfield players. The loss of Diogo Jota to a knee injury has also proved to be devastating, the Portuguese winger added a new spark to this Liverpool team, which has since not been seen in his absence.
Perhaps the intensity of the past two seasons has caught up with Liverpool
Aside from injuries, we must also consider the possibility of burnout. People will point to the fact that Liverpool showed signs of decline even before their injury issues. Ever since Project Restart, Liverpool have looked a shadow of their former selves – as typified by their humiliating 7-2 defeat against Aston Villa earlier this season.
Another factor we should consider is the front three becoming stale. As detailed by Jamie Carragher on MNF, this is the fourth straight season with Salah, Mane, and Firmino as Liverpool’s primary forwards. Perhaps a shake-up is needed to revitalise the attack.
Despite all of Liverpool’s ongoing issues, they are clearly still a very good side who are going through a horrible patch in form. The Reds will inevitably start winning again but the prospect of them reaching the level they’ve set over the past two years again seems unlikely. This team may be nearing the end of its golden cycle. Klopp, like Pep Guardiola last season, will have to think about how to reinvigorate his squad again. What still remains certain is that Jurgen Klopp is the best man to get Liverpool out of this rut; he may just need the financial backing he’s earned to do so.