The latest Red Letter delves into Liverpool’s incredible fall from grace – and looks at how glimpses into Jurgen Klopp’s past can show the way for the deposed champions’ future.
When will this nightmare end?
That seems a reasonable way of starting one of the most difficult Red Letters I’ve written since this column started in the dying days of Brendan Rodgers’ reign.
It’s hard to describe it as anything other than a nightmare if you’re a diehard Liverpool fan.
Let’s get two stats down on the page to compare and contrast.
- Last season, we won 26 and drew one of our first 27 Premier League games, by far the best ever start to a season in the history of the top five leagues in Europe. In points terms, that was a remarkable 79 out of 81. Just phenomenal.
- This season, starting with the 1-1 home draw against West Brom, we’ve taken nine points from our last 11 Premier League games. Nine points! Out of 33! That’s not even worthy of a mid-table team. It’s relegation form.
It’s hard to compute. We Liverpool fans are floundering. Losing Virgil van Dijk so soon in the season probably wrecked our title hopes but this fall from grace is horrendous.
True, midfielders have been redeployed in defence but that’s allowed Curtis Jones to blossom. And surely one of those spots in the centre of the park was going to be taken by Thiago anyway.
Perhaps the loss of the Dutchman’s reassuring presence has led to less ambition going forward. But can we really honestly, genuinely, link Van Dijk’s absence to a misfiring attack and think we’ve solved the case? Not for me.
History shows that Klopp has had these problems before
More on the strikers later but, for now, the best answers to this riddle can probably be found in Jurgen Klopp’s history.
Before our beloved boss headed to Anfield, those who delved into his back story saw several repeating patterns.
While he achieved great success, those highs were preceded by heartache: a loss in a big final or losing out on promotion on the last day of the season. It wasn’t just a simple tale of one success followed by another.
Those same rhythms played out when Klopp arrived at Liverpool. We lost a League Cup final and then a Europa League final. We rebounded the following season to crack the top four and take our place back in the Champions League.
And then it became really extreme. We lost the 2018 Champions League final to Real Madrid but remembered the hurt and took glory in the 2019 final against Spurs. And after losing out on Premier League glory by a point in 2019 despite a ridiculous tally, we made amends in style in 2020 by winning the title for the first time in 30 years.
“I get knocked down, but I get up again,” would seem a decent soundtrack to the telling of Klopp’s managerial career.
That’s all fine. It’s hard at the time to take the agony but it all becomes part of a more fulfilling story when we celebrate and look back to what helped fuel the eventual success.
But the more alarming part of Klopp’s history is the sudden but sustained crashes.
In 2011 he took advantage of a subdued Bayern Munich to mastermind Borussia Dortmund to a seven-point title win. The following season, he did it again, this time by eight.
Bottom of the Bundesliga
Dortmund were runners-up in 2013 and 2014 but, incredibly, in February 2015 they sat bottom of the Bundesliga.
From November to February (with a winter break in between), Dortmund’s league form went: D-L-W-L-D-L-D-L. Six points from eight games. Sound familiar?
Reds fans will also recall a huge splutter at the start of 2017 in Klopp’s first full season in charge at Liverpool. In the League our form read: D-D-L-D-L-W-L. Six points from seven games. In all comps it was even worse as we crashed out of both domestic cups.
Those two awful sequences started with draws to Paderborn and Sunderland respectively. Both finished bottom of their leagues and were relegated. This latest horror run started with a 1-1 draw at West Brom, another team set to go down.
The parallels are pretty remarkable.
The obvious question is ‘what happened next?’
In the Bundesliga, Dortmund recovered from rock bottom to finish seventh. Of their final 15 Bundesliga games, they won nine, drew three and lost three.
In the Premier League, Klopp’s Liverpool won eight and drew three of their final 12 games to bank fourth.
From the depths of despair, both seasons were kick-started back into action.
It’s reassuring to know on one level. But given the hand we’ve been dealt this time – a ludicrous amount of injuries and no home fans to roar us on – can history repeat itself again?
And, to be honest, we don’t want history to play out exactly the same. Why? Despite the recovery in 2015, Klopp called time on his stint at Dortmund and walked away.
The future and why things must change
Even if we do have a late-season surge and make the top four, does that mean all our problems are solved?
“Nothing ever lasts forever,” sang local Liverpool band Echo and The Bunnymen (I’m getting musical this week) and it may be worth remembering.
There was a time when our three-man attacking trident was deservedly regarded as the best in Europe. That simply can’t be said now. How can it when we haven’t managed a goal in open play at Anfield in the last five matches?
The problem could be a tactical thing but part of it must surely be that our frontline is ageing together.
Firmino is 30 in October, Mane 29 in April and Salah 29 in June.
I’ll state that age can be no barrier for a striker. Cristiano Ronaldo (36) and Robert Lewandowski (32) are still banging them in. In England, Jamie Vardy looks as sharp as ever at 34.
But here’s the difference. Vardy has young players around him. Harvey Barnes and James Madison are mere pups at 23 and 24. Ronaldo and Lewandowski have others to do the hard running.
When the whole frontline is approaching 29 and 30 we have a problem. Especially given the sheer weight of games and energy levels Klopp demands from them in this system.
Liverpool struggles can’t continue
It’s a long-winded way of saying this can’t go on.
Of course, the wise men upstairs looked to have addressed this issue by signing Diogo Jota in the summer. And it was working out spectacularly well for the 24-year-old from Portugal before he got injured. His return can’t come soon enough.
It’s terrible to admit it but, despite the odd flash, I just can’t see how Salah-Mane-Firmino can ever hit the heights they reached together a few seasons ago.
Jota for Firmino on a more regular basis is one answer. Giving Mane more of a rest to have him fully charged when he does play is another.
Salah still scores goals at a fantastic rate and should be the last to go in my opinion. But that just leads me to a huge conundrum.
The Egyptian King would clearly have the biggest value in the transfer market. So, deep breath, would you sell him to help fund the purchase of a 20-year-old Erling Haaland or a 22-year-old Kylian Mbappe?
It feels like an end of era up front right now. A big statement is needed.
By Dave Tindall – follow him on Twitter