Liverpool summer renewal looms large even as Jurgen Klopp looks to end ‘inconsistency’
Liverpool are to blame. It was Jurgen Klopp’s conclusion and his confession. “We are 100 per cent guilty for everything,” said the German and if, not for the first time, there was an element of exaggeration to an emphatic statement, he was not trying to dodge responsibility for a slide that has surprised him in its scale.
Over four seasons, Liverpool and Manchester City had set standards that had never been maintained for so long in the English game before. They were separated by a solitary point – 358-357, with Pep Guardiola taking one more than Klopp – and fought a fierce rivalry from parallel positions. Not now: while Liverpool are looking for a third victory over City this season when they visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, they kick off 19 points behind them, 27 adrift of Arsenal.
Gargantuan gulfs could stand at 22 and 30 respectively by 5pm. “An anomaly, yeah,” Klopp said. “I would prefer it would be 12 points then we were still in the Champions League spot, but it would still be 12 points to City.” Now Liverpool begin an eight-day period when they face City, Chelsea and Arsenal. “It is like a Champions League week,” Klopp said. Get too few points, however, and they could be out of the reckoning for next season’s Champions League.
He had realised there could be problems when he signed a new contract in April, considering the ageing nature of his first great team and committing himself to a rebuild which would not necessarily be smooth - but perhaps not this many. A drop-off was feasible, but Liverpool have descended to a level where they are tied on points with Brentford and Brighton.
“The extent of it is a surprise,” Klopp said. “We are sixth, or seventh with the games in hand [and if Brighton take points in theirs], and that is not where we want to be. Other teams can gain confidence by being sixth or seventh in the league. For us that is not possible because we are not where we want to be, where we should be and where we have to be.”
It was a sentence that touched on several issues. Liverpool’s history suggests they should often be top, but there were no league titles in the quarter of a century before Klopp’s appointment. He constructed a formidable team, but one he feels overachieved; perhaps they needed to in order to compete with City. “I don’t think in the last few years we ever were the best team in the league and we had to win [it],” he said. “We were always performing to our level and sometimes punching above it. It is not that we win football games with 80 percent, there’s no chance, the boys had to give their absolute all and they did.”
That maximum commitment produced magnificent runs: of 35 wins in 36 league games in 2019 and 2020, of 68 league matches without defeat at Anfield, of a 63-game campaign with just four losses last season. Now they have become more mercurial, more unpredictable. It summed up their season that they beat Manchester United 7-0 and then lost to Bournemouth.
Even Klopp does not know what to expect from his side. “I would love to say; ‘How can you ask this question?’ but that is the situation we brought ourselves in,” he admitted. “We showed all these kinds of faces. In this moment nobody can be 100 per cent sure we will be like that.
“There is inconsistency in moments. Three weeks ago it looked we were back. The Bournemouth game, is there a real explanation for it? But we are in a situation where we lose one game and everything changes again. All of a sudden it is seven points [to fourth place] instead of two or three. We brought ourselves in that position.”
There are mitigating circumstances. “We had injuries, wow,” said Klopp. An ever-changing cast list has made his job harder in a season of many a makeshift side. But Liverpool have also lost to relegation-threatened teams, compiled a poor away record and struggled to provide the appropriate response at times.
“The football part, we didn’t deal well enough with setbacks through the season,” Klopp accepted. “If you can only perform when everything is going in your direction, then there’s absolutely no chance.”
Now he is considering the next direction. He spent some of the international break planning for the next transfer window. Whether that means Liverpool’s first £100 million player remains to be seen. “The club will spend in the summer, definitely,” Klopp said. “For who and how many and stuff like this, there is nothing to say.”
The season has offered evidence of a need for change. “It’s clear after a specific amount of time that you need to shuffle things and kind of start anew,” Klopp said. “That is completely normal, it happens all the time, it’s just rare nowadays that it happens with the same manager because people realise when you sack a manager and bring in a new manager, things change and you readjust the squad.” But even as the manager has stayed the same, Liverpool are adjusting to a new and less welcome reality this season.