Jurgen Klopp didn’t hold back in his assessment of Liverpool’s performance against Brighton on Saturday. “Bad, really bad,” he said having just watched his team suffer a heavy 3-0 defeat that could have been even worse. “I can’t remember a worse game, not only Liverpool. I really can’t. This is a really low point.”
Anyone who watched the Reds’ dismal display at the Amex Stadium surely agreed with Klopp, but this wasn’t an isolated case. While it might have been a new nadir for Liverpool, this was in line with how they have played in the Premier League so far this season. Expected to be title challengers, they are currently slumped in ninth place.
Liverpool have been a shadow of the team that won Premier League and Champions League titles under Klopp. Most notably, their energy levels have seemingly dropped off a cliff this season, demonstrated by the counter-pressing statistics that show Liverpool are charting fewer out-of-possession actions per 90 minutes.
Brighton brutally exposed this, playing through Liverpool at will through the likes of Solly March and Kaoru Mitoma. Even when Liverpool were able to get close to the Seagulls, the home team found it easy to pass around them. There was even a match in the match where it appeared Liverpool gave up being proactive out of possession.
Klopp has seen this sort of thing before. In fact, this season is starting to become reminiscent of the German coach’s final season at Borussia Dortmund when the Black and Yellows weren’t able to play at the same level as they finished a lowly seventh in the Bundesliga table. Their energy levels also dropped drastically from one season to the next.
Ultimately, Klopp decided he couldn’t end Dortmund’s downward spiral and departed the Westfalenstadion to embrace a new challenge. Liverpool, however, have the resources for Klopp to build a new team. This season has been proof that an overhaul of the squad currently at Anfield is required.
The issues are clear to anyone who has watched Liverpool this season. Their midfield unit no longer has the physicality to play the counter-pressing style Klopp favours. Liverpool’s backline has also been left exposed by Fabinho whose pitch coverage isn’t what it used to be as the protective barrier in front of them.
Mohamed Salah has struggled to produce his best form this season while Cody Gakpo arrived at Anfield this month without a clear role in the Liverpool team. Did the Reds sign the Netherlands international because they have a plan for him or because they could? It’s very early days, but Gakpo has still to be integrated at his new club.
Even the best managers have to evolve to stay at the top of the sport and there is a growing sense that Klopp himself might have to reflect own his own methods and ideas to rebuild Liverpool. Pep Guardiola has changed his style of play since his Barcelona days and Klopp might have to do something similar.
On and off the pitch, Liverpool are at a critical juncture in the club’s recent history. While the team on the pitch has struggled for consistent form, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) are hoping to sell the club after 12 years of ownership. This situation must shake out first before the true picture of Liverpool’s future becomes apparent.
There is only so much Klopp can focus on, though, and his job is to put Liverpool in a position where they can compete for the biggest prizes and honours again. That won’t happen this season, and the German’s track record suggests Liverpool’s recovery isn’t guaranteed. Klopp has just as big a point to prove as his players.