That’s a loss in the derby for the first time in 12 years. That’s a home loss in the derby for the first time in 22 years. That’s a fourth consecutive home defeat for the first time in 98 years. We’re clearly not going to win the league. There’s a significant chance that we’ll miss the Champions League next season, which will absolutely destroy any recruitment plans that the club had for this summer, in addition to creating an enormous revenue shortfall, since Europa pays much less than the CL does and our kit deal with Nike is based on raw sales, as opposed to money up front, and sales will slow significantly if Liverpool is not the Liverpool people have been expecting for the previous three seasons. And this squad definitely is not that.
When the club basically passed on the 2019 summer window, there was some criticism for not “strengthening” the team. Of course, the solid counter-argument was: “Strengthen where?” We had a side that put up 97 points in the Premier League and won another European Cup. There wasn’t much improvement to be done. But Alex Ferguson, right bastard that he is (on top of being one of the catalysts for ManU’s emergence in the 90s) was right about more than one thing: Sometimes squads need to be shaken up. I don’t think it’s a question of complacency. I think it’s more a question of freshening the game, so that new ideas and genuine excitement occurs on the pitch as the ball moves around. We did some of that this past summer with Thiago Alcântara and Diogo Jota. We then lost Thiago to today’s opponents for two months and have lost Jota for more than that. And there is the question about the “freshening up” thing.
One could easily argue that we’ve been playing with basically the same squad for over three years now, which is an inordinately long stretch of time for a team to not change. Witness the pitfalls that Barcelona has encountered after deciding that their icon and his supporting cast could jointly drift into their 30s with no effect on the team’s performance. But this season has been different because, for most of it, we haven’t actually had the same squad. That was our 18th centerback combination of the season, just in PL play. The longest stretch any two of our CBs has played together is 2.5 games. All three senior CBs are out for the year. The two senior midfielders drafted in to play one or both CB roles are now out with injury, as well. You could easily point the finger at that phenomenon and say: “That’s why Liverpool aren’t winning games.” But it’s not just that.
It was pretty clear to Jürgen Klopp even when we were walking the league last season that, at some point, there needed to be a change in our offensive approach. That’s why Thiago and Jota were bought in a window that FSG kept saying wasn’t intended to be for major moves because of the huge revenue loss from an empty Anfield, an earlier-than-expected exit from the CL, and the required rebate to broadcasters for the interruption to the season. But it had become obvious that far too many of our opponents were simply going to sit deep, spread wide, and wait the game out and we were going to have trouble if asked to pick a lock in every match. That has manifested itself profoundly in the past two months, as Liverpool haven’t scored a goal at Anfield since December 27 against West Brom; 5 straight matches and most of that one, since that one goal from Sadio Mané came in the 12th minute. A casual glance would say that something is direly wrong with the way we play the game.
And yet, we have the PL’s top goal scorer and are third in goals in the league with 45, four behind Manchester City and five behind Manchester United. But when we have to score- when the game depends on one of our brilliant forwards getting behind that parked bus and putting the game away over multiple opponents whom, on paper, we simply outmatch -we can’t. Part of the problem, of course, is that two of the midfielders we’ve depended upon to get the ball into those forwards have been the farthest players from the opposing goal. So, yes, the squad may need more of a shakeup in true, Fergie style. But, no, this is not the same squad calcifying from too many games together. In the end, that leaves one with not much to say because asking questions without answers or at least an idea about the answers doesn’t do anyone any good. This is a modern version of a genuine crisis, in terms of what we expect this club to be and what it has been for the past three seasons. But there’s nothing to do about it except trust in the manager and the players who got us here in the first place and hope for something to change. These are our people and this is our club and there have been darker days than this in this century alone. YNWA.