How did Liverpool crash out of their UCL spot?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND: Jurgen Klopp unhappy at his team's performance
LEICESTER, ENGLAND: Jurgen Klopp unhappy at his team's performance /

Time waits for none. Liverpool playing on a Thursday night once seemed like a distant memory. Back when Jurgen Klopp was commanding a bang average Liverpool to the finals against the ‘Real Madrid’ of Europa, Sevilla. The Reds have come a long way since then. Battling it out with clubs in Manchester and London and their subsequent riches, gradually putting together a colossus of a team, conquering Europe and then England, duking it out with star-studded Man City. Ah, Nostalgia.

Alas, Nostalgia is sweet, but it won’t do us any favors moving forward. Certainly not to a battered and bruised Liverpool squad struggling for confidence. The team was given a sucker punch right in the face, or were they? The holes spotted last season but they didn’t surface until opening game against Fulham in August. While Liverpool lost the UCL final to Real Madrid last summer, only a few predicted the maelstrom it would bring.

To an average fan, the defeat proved Real’s ‘Champion’s’ mentality and ‘UCL DNA’; but any fan worth his passion could see the team crumbling. Klopp brushed the observation aside as ‘fatigue’ from competing for quadruple. In came a new season, and fans flocked to Anfield to watch the Liverpool they knew to come out and play their energetic and aggressive football. That team never showed up.

The Kops were right out of the sync. Their press, their attack, their defense, their everything was uncoordinated to the extreme. Klopp was out of his depth, he didn’t understand what was going wrong. At times this team looked like strangers to the one he nourished for the past half-a-decade. Liverpool barring a few big victories and a great end of a season run looked nothing more than a midtable team. But how did the things go this wrong, within a few months?

Midfield Mess:

Liverpool’s Midfield was a sight to watch this season, for all wrong reasons though. They lacked intensity, energy and most importantly they lacked the togetherness they are known for. It was chaos out there.

Jordan Henderson suddenly lost his powers as press activator. Thiago was busy paying his hospital bills, Naby Keita finally got some regular game time, and we saw why he doesn’t get any. The veteran James Milner was still in peak condition, but was tactically rather indifferent.

Hendo an Fabinho
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – APRIL 01: Jordan Henderson, Fabinho of Liverpool, Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji of Manchester City tussle during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool FC at Etihad Stadium on April 01, 2023 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Will Palmer/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images) /

The real blow struck in form of Fabinho. The Brazilian who was comfortably among top 5 pivots last season looked rather grim. He kept making amateurish mistakes and was often found out of position.

Curtis Jones was one shining ray of hope, and also a huge contributor for Liverpool to appear at Europa League next season. He was a master in possession and handled pressing duties well enough. Loan signing Arthur has become a walking meme. He was of no use whatsoever. If Liverpool and Klopp wish to play their unique brand of Gegenpressing football, they must reinforce this circus of a roster.

Dancing Defense:

Given all their misgivings, to ask the midfield to shoulder the blame would be cruel. The defense is just as much, if not more of a partner in crime. Liverpool’s full-backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold garnered much praise for their offensive output in recent years. This year they were tested on their defensive capacities and they struggled.

Andy Robertson was borderline reliable due to his fluctuating performances, but TAA showed just how terrible he could be on defense. Their ultra-attacking nature often resulted in their players getting free and running at open spaces. At times, TAA simply stopped chasing and tracking back completely.

Ibrahima Konate has been inspiring for the most part but has played only 60% of the games due to recurring injuries. Joel Matip doesn’t belong to the top level anymore. His injury history when coupled with dropping pace wouldn’t make him a starter for any aggressive manager.

Many don’t get how Joe Gomez manages to stay on the team. He has been caught guilty of countless mistakes this season and his potential coughing up goal scoring opportunities was on full display against Real Madrid. Virgil van Dijk has been unimpressive for the most part of the season, though he managed to spark a hope of revival in final few games. It’s time Liverpool ship out Matip and Gomez and bring in younger stars like Goncalo Inacio, Josip Sutalo .etc, if they plan to qualify for UCL next term.

Recruitment Priorities:

Everyone knew this was coming. It’s been a while since Liverpool has bolstered their midfield or defense. It doesn’t take quantum physics for you to understand that a squad can’t survive a whole season without injuries, and Liverpool, in particular, are blessed by the demon of injuries.

The injury situation paralyzed Liverpool a couple of years back, when they were unable to amount a semblance of a title defense. They brought in youngsters in Calvin Ramsay and Fabio Carvalho, but it doesn’t takes a genius to figure how little their contribution has been. Jurgen Klopp reverted to playing Harvey Elliot in the midfield, whenever injuries struck and young Carvalho wasn’t even a bench option.

While the departure of Sadio Mane sure left a void, Liverpool could have gone for a more economic option than splashing entire budget on Darwin Nunez. The Uruguayan sure has potential to stand along the likes of Robbie Fowler, but was that the investment Liverpool needed?

An attempt to tend the exhausted midfield would’ve come a long, long way for the Reds. They were linked with a move on Teun Koopmeiners and Mateo Kovacic earlier in the summer of 2022. Either of the signings would’ve come under a tag of £25 million, and their flexibility could’ve come handy for the German manager.

Bizzare January:

January was possibly a very tough time to be a Kop. After creating some sort of momentum in the last week of 2022, Liverpool would never have hoped that the 2023 would be far from welcoming. Liverpool’s entire campaign derailed out in the first month. They managed to earn just a single point in the league, courtesy to a wayward Chelsea draw.

FA Cup turned out to be a soap opera. Too many twists. Liverpool faced Wolves in the 3rd round, at Anfield. The Reds were limited to just a draw from the resurgent Wolverhampton side. 10 days later, Harvey Elliot’s strike sealed the advance to fourth round, only to be greeted by the likes of Roberto De Zerbi and his exciting Brighton side.

While Harvey Elliot drew the first blood yet again, goals from Lewis Dunk and a late winner from the infamous Kaoru Mitoma ended Liverpool’s FA Cup defense. Things weren’t good on transfer front as well, as Liverpool once again couldn’t curb their temptations to go after a forward, instead of you know what.

Klopp’s inflexibility:

Admit it. Jurgen Klopp was well-beaten on tactical forefront throughout the season. While Liverpool capped off some exciting displays, they were far from consistent. Their signature free-flowing attack was stifled time and time again, Things were evident, Gegenpress wasn’t working or rather players couldn’t execute it.

Yet, Klopp stuck to his beliefs. We won’t fault him for that, but it doesn’t hurt to shake up the things once in a while. The sole reason Klopp went after a 4-4-2 formation was lack of ‘attackers’. The instructions remained same. The only saving grace would be the discovery of Stefan Bajcetic. The youngster instilled a sense of unison on the field, which if nothing else, made fans feel much better.

Mohamed Salah’s atrocity from AFCON continued. The Pharoah has shined only in fragments, ever since the tournament last year. While he does have stats to say otherwise, pundits and fans argue alike, the impact was nowhere near as dramatic. Teams don’t fear Salah anymore. The tricky dribbler who could open up spaces is a forgotten sight in Merseyside these days. To put it simply, Mo Salah has somehow gone from Real’s Cristiano to Al Nassr’s Cristiano. A great scorer, who couldn’t do things alone.

The Thiago card hasn’t exactly played out the way it was supposed to. Jurgen Klopp had several unattended problems to solve. He only decided to tinker in the final spurt of the season by inverting TAA into a creative role, which gave excellent returns but came at bigger prices. The footballing world is well aware of his defensive limitations now. The long-term injuries to Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota were the final nail in this bitter coffin.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – MAY 6: Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool gestures during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brentford FC at Anfield on May 6, 2023 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images) /

It could’ve been a fantastic season for Liverpool, but sadly nothing went their way, and when things started to, it was too late. Liverpool has ‘work’ this summer. The transfer business looks highly tentative as FSG plan to enter the world of NBA. Klopp has his hands full with some tough choices to make. The medical department has yet again come under scrutiny. The coaching staff also don’t have room to breathe, the recurring injuries are a cause of major concern.

As a club, Liverpool are at a point you would call as ‘transistion’, things are changing, stars are ageing, youngsters are knocking. Can Jurgen Klopp steer them through the unsteady waters? That remains a mystery for now.