Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool farewell undermined by malfunctioning attack

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 14, 2024
Klopp has seen his side spurn a host of good chances in recent weeks - Getty Images/Paul Ellis

If there is a glimmer of light for Liverpool heading into another critical week at home and in Europe it is how comebacks have defined their season.

One of the more extraordinary statistics in the aftermath of the damaging defeat to Crystal Palace is that Jurgen Klopp’s side has been behind in 21 of their games in this campaign.

In 14 of those matches they conceded the first goal. What nourished their title challenge was the capacity to score their way out of trouble, their strikers often their saviours.

The chaotic away win at Newcastle United in August set the tone.

As in many games during the first half of the season, Liverpool were not especially impressive that day, albeit they were reduced to ten men, but their spirit and organisation enabled them to steal the points when Darwin Nunez gave a masterclass in lethal finishing which belied his reputation for inconsistency.

The theme continued when Liverpool secured points in away games at Luton Town and Manchester City, somehow found two goals in the final minutes to turn what would have been a 3-2 home loss to Fulham in December into a 4-3 win, and hit injury time winners on the road at Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest.

Such brinkmanship has never felt sustainable and it may have caught up with them, Atalanta and Palace standing firm as those previously successful cavalry charges failed to materialise.

Klopp was the first to acknowledge that the balance of the side was not quite right in the first few months, and they were relying on moments of high quality rather than showing the necessary control for 90 minutes.

This, he observed, is natural for a reconstructed side. But around Christmas he identified signs of improvement across all departments, highlighting a 0-0 draw with Manchester United as a turning point.

“We didn’t win it, but that was the game when our full counter press mentality kicked in again,” Klopp said.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat, Klopp acknowledged the reverse fixtures at United may have had the reverse impact, inflicting a psychological wound. The confidence of his strikers has sapped amid so many wasted opportunities, while the rest of the team has regressed to resemble the Liverpool of last season – too open, easy to play against and looking likely to concede on the counter-attack with every turnover of possession.

Pinning the responsibility entirely on the strikers would be too harsh, but Nunez, Salah and Diaz’s level has undoubtedly dipped.

Prior to Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford on March 17,  Nunez was averaging a goal every 144 minutes this season, his 16 in 40 appearances helping to erase doubts about whether he will fully mature as a number nine.

Since then, he has two in seven games and is averaging a goal every 266.5 minutes played.

Salah and Diaz’s numbers have dropped too although not so dramatically, the Egyptian still on course to be the club’s top goalscorer again. Diaz has never been as prolific as the man he replaced, Sadio Mane.

Liverpool have sorely missed Diogo Jota who had 14 in 28 games before his untimely injury in mid-February. Cody Gakpo is the most in-form Liverpool striker, averaging a goal every 95.5 minutes since mid-March.

Liverpool's Darwin Nunez shoots at goal
Darwin Nunez has failed to deliver goals in recent games despite ample chances - Reuters/Carl Recine

It is the sheer volume of missed chances that has been most noticeable. Just as perceptible is the loss of dynamism in a midfield trio which was purring against Manchester City on March 10 but has looked leggy ever since, Klopp conceding he may have relied on Alexis Mac Allister and Wataru Endo too much. Dominik Szoboszlai has not looked the same player since his return from a hamstring problem.

The knock-on impact of Liverpool being without Curtis Jones and Trent Alexander-Arnold is there has been no opportunity to freshen the midfield to retain the energy level so fundamental to Klopp’s gegenpressing.

The conundrum for the coach trying to overturn a 3-0 deficit in Italy is whether Mac Allister and Endo, especially, need to be rested to keep the Premier League dream alive when Liverpool face Fulham, Everton and West Ham in successive away days.

“We can’t keep relying on our comebacks. We can’t, it’s impossible,” admitted Andy Robertson after the Palace defeat.

They need at least two more if they’re going to win more silverware this season, starting on Thursday night.