Known for his toothy grin, Jurgen Klopp hasn’t had much to smile about in recent weeks. Instead, the German’s expression has been more of a grimace, with Liverpool enduring a difficult start to the season, winning just one of their last seven games.
Now, the Reds face a resurgent Manchester United side on Saturday capable of piling yet more misery on all at Anfield.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Liverpool gave themselves a platform to build upon last season, finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
But they look to have spurned that opportunity, failing to sufficiently strengthen their squad over the summer. That is now manifesting itself on the pitch and in the performances of Klopp’s team.
However, Klopp certainly isn’t the first Liverpool manager to find himself in this situation. In fact, the Anfield side have made a habit of passing up chances to make the next step in their development. It was the same for Brendan Rodgers, who failed to use a top four finish to build.
And for Rafael Benitez, whose infamous ‘facts’ meltdown started a spiral that ended with his sacking. At the end of it all Liverpool found themselves right back where they started.
There’s a cultural ceiling at Anfield and Klopp is now banging his fists against it. Liverpool have spent over two decades fighting against the weight of unrealistic expectation, fighting against their stature of a bygone age.
But nonetheless, the Reds have time and time again allowed rivals to bypass them. The same could happen again on Saturday as Jose Mourinho plots a title challenge having finished in sixth place with his Man Utd side the season before.
“I really think it looks like we are not far away from a real challenger,” Klopp said after the draw against Newcastle before the international break.
“If we do what we are good at then we can score more goals and we will win more games and we don’t have to think about other teams and we will close the gap.
“No, I cannot talk about our football and the gap between us and other teams. We have our hard moment. Other teams will have their hard moment. We need to work on our thing.
“It is all about our situation, we are not thinking about where the others are. I have not seen a drop in confidence from the players. It is our duty to be confident because the boys have the quality. We need to play football.”
Klopp is culpable for much of what Liverpool have endured over the early part of the season. The German still refuses to seek defensive help, despite his side repeating the same mistakes week after week.
His failure to secure another number nine during the summer window also appears to be more of a blunder with every goalscoring opportunity Daniel Sturridge passes up.
But there’s much more at play here. It might be that Liverpool lack the financial might to compete with the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and even Chelsea, but that doesn’t explain how Spurs have managed to bypass the Reds over the past two seasons.
Individual athletes seek physiological help when they find themselves in a rut, so why should it be any different for a club? At what point do Liverpool accept there is a deeper issue?
Meanwhile, Klopp is charged with turning things around in the short term. A deep sense of malaise could set in at Liverpool should they suffer defeat this weekend. Nothing exposes a club’s failings like a rival surging past them, and going on recent form, that’s the expected outcome at Anfield on Saturday. Even if the Reds pull off a result, the culture will remain the same.