By. Mauricio Ponce
Liverpool FC are languishing in 9th place in the premier league, a disastrous run of form which is out of character for one of the world's best teams, especially in recent years. Just last season, Liverpool were 2 games short of a historic quadruple and now they look dead in the water with a poor run of form.
With half a season and an R16 draw with Real Madrid yet to be played, what can be done to try and rectify this season if possible? Will Liverpool fall from the heights of the Klopp era into another period of mediocre and dull football? We must take into consideration all of the factors that have led to this stunning decline to understand how Liverpool has gotten here, and what can be done to rectify these mistakes.
One of the biggest reasons for this season's rapid decline was the lack of investment in the squad. Injuries have always marred Liverpool's squad, yet, insufficient reinforcements have been supplied. Liverpool’s transfer policies under Klopp started off excellent, signing lesser-known players and moulding them into world-class stars, examples like Andy Robertson fit this bill perfectly. Despite making crucial signings like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino, Klopp and the Board failed to sign players to keep our stars fresh and motivated. Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho all realized the importance of reinforcing title-winning teams, which kills complacency and burnout from other players.
Liverpool on the other hand stuck to what had got them their success, and then suffered tremendously in the 2020/21 Premier League season, with seemingly never-ending injury problems. They finished the campaign with 69 points, the lowest total since Klopp's first season in charge. FSG should be held accountable for the lack of investment in the squad when they were at their peak. While Liverpool had been run impeccably from a business standpoint, this is not the main purpose of Liverpool FC. John Henry is more than happy to profit from Liverpool, pumping £80 million into the new Anfield Road expansion, yet he seemingly isn't too keen on returning that back to the club.
A total of 62 games were played last season, with Liverpool chasing down the quadruple. This season, however, Liverpool are languishing in the mid-table. Historic losses to teams like Brighton, Brentford, Leeds, and Nottingham Forest show how far off Liverpool are from their current standard. One of the most noticeable problems is the state of their midfield.
To put it shortly, Liverpool has one of the weakest midfields in the premier league, with players past their prime getting regular game time, players who aren't good enough to start, and a stunning lack of depth. James Milner, 38, is a faithful servant to the club, and an outstanding professional, however, should not be starting for Liverpool in the year 2023. Players like Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have spent more time injured than fit. Youngsters Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliot are being forced to stay central and play out of position, despite both being attacking-minded wingers/attacking midfielders, and both players don't seem to fit in this side. Curtis Jones has not lived up to expectations, and our captain Jordan Henderson, whose technical ability was never his best attribute, has been equally uninspiring and flat.
A majority of these players have been a part of the Liverpool setup for seasons now and went from playing heavy metal pressing football to now being outmatched by any midfielder with a bit of pace and power. The lack of investment in the midfield department is now more noticeable, especially after the sale of Gini Wijnaldum, a player who hasn't been replaced and whose role is now severely missed. Simply put, Liverpool’s midfield department has been burnt out, after 3 seasons with over 90 points, they can no longer be relied on to carry the club any farther.
Thiago Alcântara is the only player I can say with confidence is good enough to start, but whose best attributes aren't able to shine due to poor midfield pairings. Thiago was bought to be a playmaker but spent more time trying to put out fires in the midfield during the game. Fabinho has gone from one of the best defensive Midfielders in the world to a passenger in most games this season. Not being able to man the midfield by himself but is constantly put on the back foot when paired with Elliot at RCM, which isn't his natural position and he doesn't track back, leaving Fabhino isolated.
There are flaws everywhere, and with Thiago being the last true “midfielder” signed in the last Four and a half seasons, questions are being asked about FSG and Klopp's willingness to address let alone fix this problem.
The reason behind LFC’s rise to the echelons of football again is due to one man, Jurgen Klopp. Joining in the second half of the 15/16 season, he took over the team and by the end of the 2021/22 season, had won every single trophy possible, only missing out on a Europa League crown against Sevilla. Despite his success and influence on the game during his tenure at Liverpool, he can’t be excluded from criticism. Klopp has made many great low-key signings at Liverpool, but when it's time to ship certain players on, he is hesitant to do so. He lacks the ruthlessness and cutting edge of managers like Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho.
Another issue would be the overreliance on certain players, one of the biggest problems from not rejuvenating your squad every window. Players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has become a first-team regular after a breakthrough 17/18 campaign, did not have any competition for their starting place due to poor squad depth. Due to this, when the player in question hits a dip in form or is exhausted, they still have that spot in the starting XI and can become weaker. Klopp is an innovator bringing the “Gegenpress” style to England and caused terror, but as time moves on teams now have answers to this style of play and with the squad in its current state, cannot play that same brand of football.
The stubbornness to continue to play out-of-form players and not use substitutes to the team's advantage has cost Liverpool plenty of points this season, a complete refresh and rebuild looks necessary. The one man who propped Liverpool back to its glory days can be the one to take us back, but that is not guaranteed with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United all entering crucial stages of their rebuilds.
Liverpool FC’s Youth Academy used to be a talent factory. In the 1990s, LFC’s notable academy graduates included Robbie Fowler, Jaime Carragher, Steve Mcmanaman, Michael Owen, and Steven Gerrard. All of these players contributed to the success Liverpool had and understood what it meant to play for Liverpool, all becoming legends of the club. Fast forward to today and you will find a different story.
The Academy had not been a focal point in Klopp’s rebuild, and while Liverpool had found success, only a handful of academy graduates were able to contribute to that success, players like Caoimhin Kelleher and Trent Alexander-Arnold. When you look at the recent success of teams like Arsenal, they entrusted the club in the hands of its youth and regularly play younger players which has had positive effects and Arsenal are now reaping the rewards, sitting at the top of the Premier League.
More focus on the youth academy provides more squad depth and a chance for players to make a name for themselves and help bring LFC back to its very best. Young players like Ben Doak and Stefan Bajectic have shined but only in limited minutes this season.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS? QATARI TAKEOVER IMMINENT?
There is not one singular thing that can change Liverpool’s direction, signing Jude Bellingham won't solve all the team's problems, as a complete overhaul of the midfield is necessary. Top to bottom this team needs a shake-up, with midfield targets Moises Caicedo, Matheus Nunes, and Jude Bellingham would bring in much-needed life into a struggling midfield. Liverpool are not a club to spend above and beyond their limits, which in today’s game especially in the Premier League is a disadvantage, so funds will have to be generated through player sales. Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, Jordan Henderson, and Joel Matip all can be shifted on to free up some wages and generate some income.
Rumours of a supposed takeover by the Qatari Investment Authority have put the wind back into the sails of Liverpool supporters. A Qatari Takeover would see an end to frugal spending and the ability to compete with the likes of Manchester City, Newcastle United, and Manchester United financially. There is nothing set in stone, and if FSG wants to sell its majority share, it will cost the QIA well over 4 Billion dollars. Simply put, with Qatari Investment or another massive takeover, Liverpool would be back in the conversation of top-tier teams. Jurgen Klopp deserves to see through his extension and with financial backing could give this team exactly what it needs.