Football Features

How worried should Liverpool be about the rest of their season?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:34, 10 February 2021

Liverpool have not won at Anfield since before Christmas. Worse, they’ve lost their last three games at home.

Five winless matches in total mark the worst run Liverpool have seen for decades. And as bad as that is, it’s been made worse by the fact that Liverpool have scored just twice in that quintet of games. Two goals in five home games is a staggeringly poor return.

This should have been a period where Liverpool powered ahead atop the Premier League, extending their lead by churning out home wins, instead their only three wins since thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 at Selhurst Park have come on the road, and one of those against an Aston Villa U-19 side.

Away wins against Spurs and West Ham were definitely impressive, but they came sandwiched between absolutely miserable performances at Anfield, where the Reds’ usually rampant attack was embarrassingly toothless.

Liverpool went three entire Premier League games without scoring a goal at home. Approximately 400 minutes passed between Sadio Mané’s strike against West Brom and Salah’s penalty against Man City.

They are in fourth place still, but they’re five points behind Manchester United in second and 10 points behind City in first, and City have a game in hand so could extend that lead to 13 points. Consequently, the Reds have slipped to 33/1 with SkyBet to win the 2020/21 Premier League title, compared to 18/1 for Man Utd and 1/16 for Man City. That’s pretty bad, but is this as bad as it’s going to get?

Well, here’s the problem: while Liverpool are fourth for now, Everton and Aston Villa both have games in hand over the defending Premier League champions. Villa are currently five points back so if they were to win both their games they would be one point ahead of the Reds. Worse for Jurgen Klopp’s men is that rivals Everton are just three points back. So two wins for the Toffees and they’ll be three clear of the Reds, who could be down to sixth place by then.

So the question is now: just how bad can things get for Liverpool this season?

Obviously, Liverpool aren’t getting relegated, but they are in miserable form with all of their key players bar Salah and Andrew Robertson looking like a shadow of their former selves.

The quality is overflowing in the squad so if their players get their act together, you can easily see Liverpool marching up the table. But can the players get their act together? Could they go on such a run? Do they have what it takes, physically and mentally?

Liverpool are ravaged by injury in defence. While the rest of their squad is mostly healthy, they’ve lost their three senior centre-backs to injury. Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and, recently, Joel Matip have all been struck down.

In their absence, Liverpool have been using Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as makeshift centre-backs as well as occasionally turning to youth teamers Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips. Absolutely none of these combinations is ideal and while they signed Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak on transfer deadline day, both men are either young or inexperienced at the highest level. Who knows if they will be able to step up and produce instantly as the Reds need them to do. They can’t afford to wait for these prospects to adapt.

Central defence is obviously a key area for any side, but for a team like Liverpool who build from the back and need long-passing centre-backs with excellence in defending space and contesting duels, it’s even more focal and a drop-off there will impact the entire side, in particular, the spaces their deadly full-backs collect the ball in.

But hey, let’s say everything works out and both youngsters settle, will that be enough to drive Liverpool forward again? There are no guarantees. So much of what the Reds did in their recent dominant run was built off an impossible mental strength. A staggering self-belief that their way was the right way and as long as they kept going, they would get the result they wanted.

Through injury, misfortune and the rising level of others, that self-belief has been shattered. Liverpool are no longer an invulnerable side that play like they will always be able to get the result they want. Alisson, the hitherto flawless titan in the Liverpool goal, has looked decidedly mortal lately, including his horror show against Manchester City. Then at the other end, they throw bodies forward as they used to for sure, they commit to attack and carve out chance and it, just, doesn’t happen.

Brighton shut them out, so did Burnley, Newcastle and Southampton. Then Man City, a side who usually collapse at Anfield, showed up and blew them away. Will all of these problems just go away? It doesn’t seem likely, does it? The return of Diogo Jota (whenever that is) will help, but unless Davies and Kabak turn out to be world-class studs who can come in and start right now, the defence will remain in disarray.

This has to be the worry for Liverpool fans: yes, they’re bad right now, but unlike typical bad patches all teams go through, Liverpool are bad in a way that it’s hard to see them stop being bad. Beyond all their absentee replacements hitting the ground running at the top level, it’s hard to see how they get out of this funk. They missed the chance for major squad additions in January (Manchester United have shown how one man can change a side’s fortunes with their capture of Bruno Fernandes) and now they’re left waiting on a miracle.

Without wanting to cause alarm, Klopp has been here before. When coach of Borussia Dortmund, he guided his side to not only win the Bundesliga title but to retain it afterwards as well. Their Treble-chasing efforts the following season fell at the final hurdle and after another near-miss the following campaigns, in 2014/15 things just collapsed.

The Dortmund squad was ravaged by injury, Klopp’s tactics had lost their effect on his men as they continued to struggle. In the end, Dortmund finished seventh in the Bundesliga, lost the DFB-Pokal final, and Klopp left the club in the summer.

2014/15 was Klopp’s seventh season in Dortmund and the project he so beautifully started in 2008, that took Dortmund to the very top of the German game and so close to European glory too, had run its course.

2020/21 is Klopp’s sixth season in Liverpool and the project he so beautifully started in 2015 that took Liverpool to the very top of the world game to deliver a Champions League and the long-awaited Premier League title, well, you hesitate to say it’s run its course but this squad has been together in this current state since January 2018.

That’s a long time for any squad to exist without a serious structural rework and it would be all too easy to see the emotional high of winning the Premier League for the first time 30 years as the endgame for this brilliant team, rather than another step along the road of a dynasty. Time will tell, of course, but this last six weeks has felt very much like an empire in decline.