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Liverpool's crisis is clearly growing - but there are no calls for Klopp to be sacked

15:00 EAT 16/01/2023
Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Reds' season reached a new low at Brighton on Saturday afternoon but the manager retains the confidence of the club, and the fans.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t even try to dress it up. How could he?

It’s been a head-scratching season for the Liverpool manager, and his side’s latest horror-show, a 3-0 defeat at Brighton that was as wretched and as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests, had him racking his brain in the post-match press conference.

"I’m not sure if it’s because it’s only a few minutes since the game, but I honestly can’t remember a worse game," he said. "And I mean in all [my career], not only at Liverpool.”

Few who were at the Amex Stadium on Saturday would disagree – although beatings at Watford in 2015 and 2020, the 7-2 skelping at Aston Villa a couple of years back, or any of those six straight Anfield defeats during the 'pandemic season' could run it close.

Hardly surprising, then, that Klopp made a point of praising Liverpool’s supporters after the game. He knows he needs them right now.

It was notable that the away end was half-empty by the time his players, led by Harvey Elliott and Andy Robertson, made their way to acknowledge them, apologetically, at the final whistle.

Some, such as Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita, didn’t bother, heading straight down the tunnel. Robertson covered his face in despair, as Alisson Becker had his name chanted.

The Brazilian, rightly, was deemed exempt from the criticism aimed at the rest of his team-mates on the South Coast.

Klopp, meanwhile, offered an apology to those who had made the 10-hour round trip from Merseyside, clasping his hands together and bowing his head.

"They were exceptional, to be honest," he said afterwards. "They realised it wasn’t our day, and they showed they are real supporters."

It’s been a case of feast to famine, as far as Liverpudlians are concerned. The joys of last season, which saw them follow their side to the brink of history, are a distant memory now.

Klopp’s side are ninth in the Premier League, below Fulham, Brighton and Brentford and closer to the bottom of the table than the top.

They have taken eight points from nine away matches in the league, they’re out of the Carabao Cup and need to win a tricky replay at Wolves on Tuesday night to keep their FA Cup hopes alive.

Few will be travelling to Molineux with optimism, given recent showings.

Pressure is mounting, with Klopp struggling to come up with answers as to why his side have dropped off so dramatically from last season, and with the need for new signings, particularly in midfield, more obvious with each passing game.

At some clubs – Chelsea, for example – the manager’s position would be under scrutiny, but there is little chance of that at Liverpool, where Klopp retains the unequivocal backing of the club's owners.

Rightly so, too, given his remarkable achievements on Merseyside. 

The fans, too, remain firmly behind him.

There were a few shows of dissent on Saturday. Henderson, who is struggling badly this season, was berated for not playing forward quickly enough in the first half, while there were angry howls when Liverpool allowed Robert Sanchez, the Brighton goalkeeper, to stand with the ball at his feet for 30 seconds or more, unchallenged, in the second period.

However, it is telling that much of the real criticism is being aimed at Fenway Sports Group (FSG) over their perceived inability, or refusal, to spend big money on quality reinforcements.

The Americans, of course, might argue that is a little unfair, having committed up to £44 million ($53m) on Gakpo earlier this month, having signed Darwin Nunez for what could end up being a club-record fee in the summer, and having made Salah the highest-paid player in the club’s history in July.

They tied Klopp down to a new four-year contract last spring, and have taken steps to assemble him a new, younger team with the likes of Diogo Jota, Ibrahima Konate and Luis Diaz, as well as Nunez and Gakpo – all recruited for sizeable fees since the Premier League title was won in 2020.

What they haven’t done, however, is address the squad’s key weakness – its midfield – by making top-level purchases, and until they do that, it is hard to see Liverpool challenging for the major honours, as they have over the past four or five seasons, and as they did so thrillingly on four fronts last term.

They need at least two central midfielders, probably three, and there’s a problem coming down the road at centre-back too, with Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip well into their 30s, and Joe Gomez’s form having nosedived since his return from a serious knee injury.

That’s four big signings, key signings. A hell of a task, even for a manager of Klopp’s talent.

He insists he is still as committed and as motivated as ever, and we should take him at his word, although there have been clear signs this season that his frustration is growing.

Comments in press conferences about financial constraints and FSG's "way" do not go unnoticed, while pointed references to "the medical department" hint at internal issues too.

Certainly the club’s injury list, which at present contains Van Dijk, Jota, Diaz, Nunez, Roberto Firmino and Arthur Melo, has been a big factor in Liverpool's decline, although the struggles of key players – Henderson, Van Dijk, Fabinho, even Salah – must worry the manager and his staff more. 

The team's lack of pressing, energy and physicality, meanwhile, is as clear as the Liver Bird upon the players' chests.

“Come on, the team we lined up today was really not a bad one,” Klopp said at Brighton, but just as at Brentford and in the cup game against Wolves, Liverpool’s players were either unable or unwilling to do what he asked of them.

They were second best in every department, outrun, outplayed and outfought by a team that looked a little like they used to look and played a little how they used to play: fast, incisive, confident and dangerous.

"I think the players listen, in fact I'm sure of that," Klopp said, "but I know where you are coming from because I can see that it didn’t look like it."

What has become apparent is that there will be no quick fix. Even another January signing would not transform things overnight, and there is no sign at this stage that Liverpool are planning one anyway, with “long term targets” being pursued for the summer instead.

How that will pan out, with the club still up for sale and the sporting director, Julian Ward, stepping down at the end of the season, remains to be seen.

Amid all that, Klopp and his staff must find the answers, on the training pitch, in the analysis suite and in the dressing room.

There is still plenty of elite talent within this Liverpool squad, and finding a way to allow that to show itself again must be top of the manager’s priority list. Character is needed, courage is needed, and big players need to step up.

In the meantime, expect the away end to be in full voice at Wolves on Tuesday night. They might not be enjoying what they’re watching at the moment, but Klopp knows he can still count on their unwavering support.

And that will be crucial if the Reds are to dig their way out of the hole they find themselves in. The time for togetherness at Anfield is now.