Liverpool’s late run of form proves too little, too late

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge on April 4, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge on April 4, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images) /

It’s been impossible to get a read on Liverpool this season. While Klopp’s side has underwhelmed for much of the campaign, it’s produced several sublime performances to suggest an imminent return to the typical standards established under the German manager.

Within eight-day spans, Liverpool claimed a deserved victory over Manchester City before losing to Nottingham Forest and recorded a historic 7-0 win over Manchester United before an appalling showing in a 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth. The Reds have been more than a match for any side in the league at their best, but otherwise and too often permitted weaker opponents to frustrate and steal points from them.

Until the final stretch of the season, Liverpool’s strongest performances occurred nowhere near consistently enough for the Reds to make up ground on Manchester United and Newcastle in the hunt for a top-four spot. Despite an admirable ten-match unbeaten run with seven consecutive victories, their absence from next season’s Champions League is now official after Newcastle and United both guaranteed their places in the tournament with their results this past week and condemned Liverpool to Europa League football. Liverpool’s belated resurgence has proved too little, too late.

What will perhaps frustrate the Anfield faithful most was how attainable the top-four really was for their side. This Liverpool squad, while aging and in need of upgrades in certain areas, certainly boasts enough quality to finish above fifth. Most of these players were a Champions League final and a single Premier League point away from an unprecedented quadruple just last year. Though many of their performances have plummeted since then, the Reds nonetheless hold a respectable set of results against the league’s top sides with victories home and away over Newcastle and at home to United and City. They were unfortunate not to take all three points at home to Arsenal as well having fought back from two goals down for a draw and created more than enough chances to find a winner.

Instead, what’s ultimately cost Liverpool has been poor results from far more welcoming matches on paper. Klopp’s men registered 9-0 and 6-1 victories over Bournemouth and Leeds respectively yet lost the reverse fixtures. Second victories against those sides and away at Wolves and Nottingham were well achievable and would have seen the Reds comfortably qualify for the Champions League next season.

However, not even a top-four finish would have masked Liverpool’s need for additions to its squad this summer. After so nearly completing the quadruple last season and winning every piece of silverware possible under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s aspirations well exceed just Champions League qualification. Its failure to once again challenge Manchester City for the league title and to properly contend for other prizes has cast serious doubt about the ability of this group of players to deliver at the same level as in recent seasons.

At the back, Virgil Van Djik has looked unrecognizable at times as opposing players have targeted him with ease and punished his poor positioning. The Dutchman has proven vital to Liverpool’s accomplishments since he signed for the club in 2018 and will still likely remain a key figure but it goes without saying that he’ll need to sharpen up if his side is to enjoy further success.

Jordan Henderson’s place in Klopp’s first XI is far less secure going into next season. The Liverpool skipper has grown into a magnificent player throughout his Liverpool career, but as he ages into his 30’s, he no longer maintains the physical ability to press as efficiently and consistently or to establish the Reds’ authority in the middle of the park. Liverpool will prioritize strengthening its midfield over the summer and if they acquire their main targets, Henderson will undoubtedly face a reduced role.

However, the struggles of individual players and weaknesses of their squad is far from the sole culprit of the Reds’ lackluster campaign. The reality is that as a collective, they failed to perform as well as they could have and have no one to blame for that but themselves.