There’s a video of Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool, counting the number of their European Cup and Champions League wins during their parade following the last triumph on the continent, aired on the clubs’ television channel. The energetic and always animated German counted off the fingers of his right hand, starting with thumb, and ended up the count with the thumb of the left hand: one to six. After the count, he made a dramatic pause, and flashed a huge smile.
Liverpool had gone on from that victory to annihilate the English Premiership, and the six-count gesture has been converted by some of their fans to represents a wordless re-enactment of what LeBron said when he arrived at Miami and promised six Championships. And this rampaging Merseysiders looked like a team that could better LeBron’s Miami Heat, and actually deliver on that (unsaid) promise. The signs were there:
After managing 4th place finishes in each of his first three years at Anfield, Klopp’s Liverpool missed the chance to be Premier League Champions for the first time in their history, simply because they played too many draws. Liverpool won 30 games, lost only one, but the seven draws meant that Manchester City, who won 32 games, drew two and lost one game, had one more point than Liverpool. The following season, the Reds of Anfield set about ensuring that the mistakes of the past were not repeated.
Liverpool won 32 games, and drew only three this time; the three losses they suffered was five less than the team with the next number of games lost. And Liverpool were Premier League Champions for the first time in their history.
They finished 18 points ahead of dethroned Champions City, and were 33 points better than Manchester United in 3rd Place, set many records, and looked on track to make a run for another Premier League title. Cue the reference to Klopp’s silent count, as the celebration of another momentous European glory bubbled and frothed on the streets of Liverpool.
Given this joyous scenario, nobody could (accurately) foresee what would later unfold. The few people who predicted the burn-out that is associated with the teams Klopp has coached; from Mainz to Dortmund, hinted at the same likely outcome. The reason is simple, they claim that the constant pressing game on which the success is built, cannot be sustained. They suspected just a dip in form; nobody foresaw the meltdown we are witnessing.
And it all started with the game in the Midlands where Aston Villa defeated the Champions with an incredible 7-2 score line; but even that, was thought to be a blip. Something that would soon be corrected, especially as Liverpool rattled off an eight-game unbeaten run, nestling five straight wins in that stretch.
The 7-0 win at Crystal Palace following a hard-fought 2-1 win over Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspurs was seen by many as the turn in Liverpool’s season, they thought, for a kick that would see the Reds mount another assault and a Premiership title challenge that had faltered. That result was a turning point indeed, but alas, it was a turn in the wrong direction.
The next home game for the Reds was against a team that had started badly, the type that the Liverpool of the previous season had snacked on, while waiting to better bigger opponents: West Bromwich Albion. The next would be against Manchester United, who had troubles of their own, and should be easier to handle that Spurs. West Brom found a late equalizer after Liverpool had toiled to add more goals to an early Saido Mane strike, and although they played well against United, the troika of Mohammed Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino could not breach the Red Devil’s defense. They had managed only one goal at home since, a futile lone strike (from the penalty spot) by Salah in a 4-1 loss to Manchester City.
Liverpool have now lost six straight games at home and nine overall in the Premier League this season. This is the first time in the club’s history that Liverpool would lose six successive home matches. The streak is also the longest top-flight home losing run by a reigning champion. And those nine losses in the League is the same as the team had lost in the previous three Premier League seasons combined. And they still have 10 games left to play.
While the more positive fans would point at the number of injuries – mostly to key players in key areas, that the team has had to contend it, the more negative ones will agree with the manager, who lamented that the lack of goals has been the biggest headache.
And both would have a point.
Klopp has been forced to pair more players in Liverpool’s central defense than most teams have done in five seasons, and he has played more players out of position in the Reds backline than many would care to admit.
Still, injuries are a part of football; and the Anfield meltdown is looking all too familiar. Klopp has been here before, and while this may look like a re-enactment of his final days at Borussia Dortmund, this particular episode does not necessarily have to end the same way.
It is madness to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Klopp plays a particular style of football that wears down opponents; unfortunately, his players feel the strain too. The high intensity game his team plays requires constant change of personnel; this will keep the stars fresh, and limit injuries. Klopp has stuck to a tiny group, resting them only when it’s impossible to play them. That has got to change.
It’s either the German develop an alternative way to play certain games – develop another style, or use a bigger squad, and rotate the players more. Otherwise, the Klopp era which started with a whimper, but hit dizzy heights in the past two seasons, may just have ended the way it started.