IIt was at the very end of Jürgen Klopp’s post-match press conference at the Amex Stadium on Saturday that he was asked the question most people in the room probably thought they were asking: his decision to remove Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Joël Matip as part of a quadruple substitution in the middle of the second period symbolic of the overtaking of this Liverpool team?
“It’s our fault if you can ask that question, I understand that, but the changes have nothing to do with it,” Klopp said with characteristic defiance, but ultimately his behavior betrayed him. Head bowed, voice lowered, worry etched on his face; the German, very clearly, recognized his side defeat against Brighton being as remarkable as emphasis.
Indeed, he viewed defeat as probably the the poorest of his coaching career, which was saying something considering Borussia Dortmund flirted with relegation in their final season there. But what he said also came as no shock given how serious Liverpool are. Clueless, dull and lame, with the manner of their display particularly surprising given that they had a full week to prepare. In the end, it looked like those in red had barely spent an hour together before heading to the south coast.
So the downward spiral of a great team continues and it’s hard to know where to start to assess what went wrong. Of course, there was a hangover from last season’s grueling and ultimately devastating pursuit of the quadruple, something the manager admitted last week. The poor results also very clearly dented confidence, with injuries hardly helping matters. But the unease runs deeper than that, and nowhere more so than in midfield.
He has not been up to the task all season, failing to bring the aggressiveness, athleticism and dynamism necessary for the proper functioning of the team with a high line and high intensity. The rhythmic drumbeat of Klopp’s heavy-metal football has been distinctly inharmonious for months and the fundamental impact of this has been that opposing teams have been able to create openings against liverpool with regular ease. At the start of Saturday’s game they had offered 51 big chances to their opponents in 17 league games this campaign, with only Leeds and Fulham having a worse record.
Brighton have become the latest team to come through and force their way through Liverpool at will and while, as Klopp later pointed out, the visitors must take collective responsibility, it is still the men in the middle whose the failures stood out the most and felt the most revealing. . Thiago Alcântara was largely ineffective in a more forward role while Henderson and Fabinho were completely overwhelmed as double pivots, unable to effectively press or chase a blue-and-white player once they got past them. which put a strain on Liverpool’s defence. it proved too much to bear on three occasions in the second half. The end result took the number of league goals the Merseysiders have conceded this season to 25, the most after 18 league games under Klopp.
To put it bluntly, Henderson and Fabinho looked like old men playing a young man’s game, which they are to some degree – 32 and 29 respectively – and having endured the relentless exertion that comes with doing so. to be longtime midfielders in a Klopp team. . They gave their all in the pursuit of success and this season he seems to have caught up with them. In this sense, their weekend replacements does to feel symbolic; a nod to the end of one era and the need for another to begin.
It could be argued that Liverpool should have seen this coming and that their failure to sign at least one high-quality midfielder last summer was an act of negligence. In all honesty, the club wanted Aurélien Tchouaméni but was beaten to the signing of the French international by Real Madrid. However, there should have been alternative plans in place, and given Liverpool’s worsening hopes of finishing in the top four, it’s more than a surprise that a midfielder isn’t signed in either. this window, with a move for No. 1 target Jude Bellingham due next summer at the earliest. A growing number of fans are blaming Fenway Sports Group for the current inertia, viewing them as owners who want to sell and will not spend the necessary and available funds on transfers as long as they stay put.
All is not well at Liverpool and Klopp’s task, starting with Tuesday’s FA Cup replay with Wolves, is to change the mood at a club that had been happy for so long. For that to happen, he needs to make changes from his side and there is no more pressing place than at the very heart of it.
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