It is the international break- a rest from club football; a relief from fans having to endure their clubs painful form and turgid style of play or a disappointment for fans riding the wave of excitement, receiving adulation for strong results. Unfortunately for Liverpool FC fans, it is more the former than the latter.
The 5-point lead at Christmas over Merseyside rivals Everton quickly evaporated by Liverpool making history: losing 6 times at home for the first time in their 129-year history and ending their formidable 68 match unbeaten run at Anfield. The key component of this run has been frustrating, blunt sluggish performances against the bottom 6 sides; losing 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion, Burnley, and Fulham F.C. Losses at home to Manchester City F.C and Everton F.C for the first time since 2003 and 1999 respectively have further compounded Liverpool’s misery. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager, labelled his side as mentality monsters after overcoming a 1-0 deficit against Southampton to win 3-1 at St Mary’s Stadium on 6th April 2019. But fast forward two years on, Sky Sports commentator Jamie Carragher labelled the side mentality midgets during the loss to Fulham.
A harsh statement but the underlying subtext remains; late winners and narrow victories consistently in 2019/20 season, benefitting from fine margins as well as the ability to change games in clutch moments were the key component for Liverpool’s first ever Premier League title. Unfortunately, 2020/2021 has seen these same fine margins go against Liverpool. A myriad of thunderstorms (poor refereeing decisions and consistent injury issues) has cascaded down upon Liverpool; Mother Nature forcing Jurgen Klopp’s hand by removing the backline for a prolonged period and relaying the message that retaining the title is nigh on impossible. In addition, family bereavements for Klopp and Allison came at inopportune moments (not being allowed to travel for the funeral), thus further hindering Liverpool.
The signs were evident prior to Christmas with only 2 victories in 6 games away from home- makeshift defence, a shambolic 7-2 defeat to Aston villa and poor refereeing decisions prevented victories away against Everton, Brighton, and Fulham. Another key factor has been Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold more defensive than in previous seasons: a functional midfield allowed Robertson and Trent to push further forward into a 2-3-5 shape and act like wide playmakers, linking up with Mane and Salah respectively, whipped crosses into dangerous areas and cutting inside towards the byline or the edge of the area. This attacking threat has dwindled and hence Salah and Mane have been crowded out which has seen a shortage of goals, especially for Mane. Mane had 18 goals and 7 assists in 19/20 compared to 7 goals and 4 assists in 20/21.
In 19/20 Liverpool scored 85 goals, 83 scored by the whole squad from 222 shots on target and an overall total of 585 shots with an xG of 71.5 for goals for. This season Liverpool have conceded 48 goals from 29 matches and there is an expected total of 63 goals from 38 matches. Furthermore, prior to the facing Wolverhampton ‘Wolves’ Wanderers F.C away at Molyneux stadium, Liverpool had only scored 2 goals from 71 shots on target, a far cry from the clinical finishing of 19/20. The lack of rotation due to 2-month injury lay off for Jota, injuries in key positions such as centre back and midfield, and loss of form for Alex Oxlade Chamberlin, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and Roberto Firmino have been key components for the reduction in goals.
This has been mainly due to mental and physical fatigue due to lack of rotation and the pressure of ending the 7-year trophy drought and achieving the first ever premier league title and first top-flight title in 30 years. 196 points from a possible 228 which included 41 wins from 43 matches which helped Liverpool to their first title in 30 years and the first ever continental treble for an English club was certainly a relief for a group of players who shared the burden of fans expectations, pressure, and lack of experience of winning premier league titles. As a result, the relentless machine, finally, has been littered with faults in the cogs and the burnout and exhaustion was inevitable.
However, since the 1-0 loss to Southampton on 4th January 2021, Liverpool have only lost twice away from Anfield, one match result of defensive mishaps and a capitulation at Leicester City F.C, winning 7 of those matches (albeit one was against Aston Villa’s Under 23s side due to their first team contracting COVID).
Furthermore, Liverpool have experience poor periods of form in the January/ February period during Klopp’s tenure, having lost six times in January and February in 2017 and winning only 3 matches in 12 matches. This caused Liverpool to exit the league cup semi-finals, draw 0-0 with Plymouth Argyle in FA cup as well as lose 1-2 at home to Wolves. After the 3-1 loss to Leicester City on 27th February 2017, Liverpool only lost once in 12 premier league matches, winning eight of these matches including a spectacular overhead kick by Emre Can in the 1-0 away win against Watford F.C.
A similar run of form occurred during the 18/19 season where from 1st January to 3rd March 2019, Liverpool only won four matches from nine and then went on a nine-match winning run and ultimately pushing Manchester City F.C in the title challenge to the final day. The fitness staff are well prepared in season gone by and train the side to finish strong and gain results through greater stamina and higher fitness levels.
Finally, Liverpool are only 5 points of top four with slightly favourable fixtures for their last nine games: only playing one of the current top six sides and facing teams on poor form. Liverpool has strong European pedigree and have a strong chance to progress in the champions league, beating 13 times winners Real Madrid who have a very experienced side. Nevertheless, a side who if consistently pressed can be dominated; demonstrated by the vibrant, vivacious Ajax Amsterdam side who gave Real the run-around and won 4-1 at the Bernabeu stadium.
In addition, the final is being held at the Ataturk stadium; a stadium bringing fond memories for Liverpool after their comeback against AC Milan in the champions league final of 2005. In the 2004/05 champions league win, Liverpool faced a German side in round of 16 and Chelsea in the semi-finals. Furthermore, whenever Liverpool have faced Porto in European competitions, they have reached the final on each occasion (winning against Porto in 2001,2018,2019). This season, Liverpool faced a Bundesliga side in the round of 16 and if they reach the semi-finals, they will face either F.C Porto or Chelsea F.C, so the omens certainly look promising for Liverpool lifting their 7th European Cup.
Liverpool have faced the storm; the players have walked through the storm, the wind, and the rain but now they can hold their heads up high and make a final push for the Champions League trophy and achieve top four in the league. Klopp remarked in his first press conference that he wanted to turn us from doubters into believers so we must believe we can have a successful end to a stormy season and at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky. Liverpool’s players, fans, board, and owners must be united and on the same page so at the end of the storm, we can build, improve, and witness further success in the future.