Liverpool Letdown: What's Gone Wrong For Jurgen Klopp And The Reds?

How the mighty have fallen.

The perennial powerhouse that won the Premier League in 2020 and finished second last year, Liverpool’s now a dull, innocuous shadow of its previously dominant form, and thanks to a sluggish start this season that’s seen problem after problem line up like dominoes, the burning question on everyone’s mind is when will the boys of Anfield finally hit rock bottom? And what does that mean for manager Jurgen Klopp, the affable German who's been a Premier League prince while restoring Liverpool to its former glory? Well, Marc Kosicke, Klopp' s agent, weighed in on the matter. 

"I can assure that Jurgen Klopp has no intention of resigning from Liverpool FC," Kosicke told Florian Plettenberg of Sky Sports this week. "The fact that problems could arise this season due to the past intensive season was taken into account by the club's owners before the start of the season.”

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"Jurgen enjoys the backing of the people in charge and is in regular contact with them,” added Kosicke. “He loves the club, his team and the fans, and [he] is determined to continue and successfully complete the transition in Liverpool. He didn't extend his contract until 2026 for nothing.”

The languishing of the Reds this season began well before they stepped a foot onto the pitch. The owners at Fenway Sports Group, the collective that includes the ownership group of the Boston Red Sox, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, sent Anfield into a tizzy by jettisoning scoring machine Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich this summer for a paltry £35 million. In lieu of the Senegalese attacker ripping it up with Mo Salah, Liverpool brought in Darwin Nunez, the promising Uruguayan striker. Though he’s shown glimpses of achieving phenom status using his scintillating speed and aerial attacking prowess, attempts to cohesively integrate Nunez into Klopp’s attack have hit roadblocks as he appears to lack the requisite experience the Reds need to be real contenders. At times, Nunez has shown a tempestuous volatility that has more in common with the ego-driven antics of an aging superstar in the twilight of career like Cristiano Ronaldo, rather than a raw talent genuinely seeking to develop into his squad’s go-to hero.

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Speaking of Salah, with just four goals in 12 Premier League games, the Egyptian’s treading water in arguably his most difficult spell across his six years with Liverpool. And some fault lines may be forming between manager and player in terms of Liverpool's ideal formation. Amid the Reds' struggles this season, Klopp has at times abandoned their traditional 4-3-3, with Salah playing on the flank of the attacking line, in favor of a 4-4-2 diamond shape, aiming to provide some more defensive solidity.

But after returning to a 4-3-3 this week in the Champions League against Napoli, which saw Salah and Nunez both tally in a crucial 2-0 win, Salah was asked by BT Sport if the 4-3-3 was best suited for his game. 

“It’s not my job, it’s the gaffer’s job,” Salah firmly stated, noting he did feel more comfortable playing within it. “I’m happy about it. I’ve played the position for five or six years, so I have to say yes, that position is the best for me. But I’m not the manager. The manager decides the tactics, and as a player, you have to follow the leader."

Klopp, when asked about Salah's comments, reiterated that the decision to switch things up was predicated on Liverpool's own lackluster play.

“It’s the system we played most often, it’s the system which is familiar to us when we played well, and we can defend better in that system,” Klopp said of the 4-3-3. “We didn’t do that [defend] that often when we played it recently, that’s why we had to change a couple of things – to give the boys a few new things to think about, a few new pieces of information and all these kind of things."

Jose Mourinho being interviewed after a game
Jose Mourinho being interviewed after a game

In Klopp’s defense, it’s no wonder he’s been pulling his hair out, trying to find unique ways to camouflage his team’s weaknesses because a constant carousel of injuries continues to plague the Reds. Arthur Melo, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luis Diaz, Dioga Jota – the evolving list of causalities to Klopp’s side has definitely been an irritating hindrance for the Reds. During one period, Klopp was without 10 of his senior players – a recipe for disaster, considering how much emphasis the German manager puts on training and player fitness.  

While the effectiveness of Liverpool’s defense has risen under the play of Ibrahima Konaté and Virgil van Dijk, part of what’s made life more difficult for Salah up top stems from the degradation of the Reds’ midfield. The trifecta of Harvey Elliott, Fabinho and James Milner are showing fatigue, as is the squad as a whole (Liverpool was literally outrun by 11 kilometers during their recent loss to Leeds, according to ESPN.) Without a fit midfield, defenders face an onslaught of high-pressure attacks which reduces the team’s time of possession and its ability to service an eager front line.

Still, for all the guff he’s caught for this season’s lack of spectacular play, many point to the 55-year-old German manager’s resume as a reason to keep the halls at Anfield reverberating with hope as Klopp has won the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup and the League Cup since arriving at Liverpool in 2015.

"People look at me and they say, 'He looks tired' or whatever, but I'm not," Klopp declared. "I cannot give that excuse. My job is not only to be here when the sun is shining and somebody gives us a trophy. My job is to be there when we go through a really rough period, and I will do that with all I have."

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