Put simply, Liverpool Football Club is, right now, in a state of turmoil. The problems run much deeper than the substandard performances on the pitch. The roots of our troubles as a club are widespread, from the owners to the transfer committee and of course, the players themselves. After today’s dismal 2-2 draw at Anfield against a relegation-threatened Sunderland side, Liverpool languish in 9th place. In fact, the Reds are sandwiched almost exactly in mid-table, 18 points behind leaders Leicester and 19 points above bottom side Aston Villa. 25 games into the season, Liverpool’s goal difference stands at a pitiful -4. It makes matters all the worse knowing that this Liverpool squad cost £300 million to assemble, meanwhile Leicester are marching towards the title with a squad worth a fraction of the price Liverpool paid for Christian Benteke. A measly points return of 5 from a possible 18 in 2016 so far is an alarming reflection of the sorry state of affairs.
In a way, you’ve got to feel some sympathy for Klopp- look at the job he’s walked into. The scale of the rebuilding project he has on his hands is far larger than we could have imagined a couple of months ago when Liverpool had just demolished Southampton 6-1, shortly after a stunning 4-1 victory over Man City at the Etihad. Just this calendar year alone, Liverpool have already suffered defeats to West Ham, Man United and Leicester in the league. The late capitulation to surrender a 2-0 lead at home to Sunderland was just the latest instalment in a growing catalogue of games to forget this season. A penalty shoot-out victory over Stoke to send Klopp’s side to Wembley provided a solitary source of optimism for the remainder of this season. Quite frankly, next season cannot come quickly enough.
The squad Klopp has been left with after taking over from Rodgers in October is desperately unbalanced, short of quality and depth. There are simply too many players who are not good enough for a side of Liverpool’s aspirations. Simon Mignolet continues to cost his side points on a regular basis- the decision to hand him a new 5-year deal is simply baffling. Liverpool’s soft centre has been exposed on many an occasion this season, with major question marks over the form of Mamadou Sakho since his return from injury. Dejan Lovren has improved significantly but is surely no more than a decent squad player beyond this season. Kolo Toure, approaching the age of 35, is well past it. The less we see of Martin Skrtel, the better. Alberto Moreno’s performances have nose-dived in recent weeks, reviving questions over his long-term suitability as Liverpool’s first choice left back option. This is a defence in need of major fixing in the summer. The inability to defend set pieces, along with a goalkeeper who concedes over 50% of opposition shots on target is a recipe for disaster. Liverpool must surely sign at least one, preferably two new centre-backs in the summer, and a new left back to provide stiff competition for Moreno’s place. Only Nathaniel Clyne and the returning Jon Flanagan look up to the job.
Weaknesses extend beyond the backline, with Liverpool’s often non-existent midfield failing to provide cover for the defence or creativity in attack. Lucas, for all his passion and fight, gets exposed far too regularly due to his lack of mobility in front of the back four. Emre Can’s role remains ambiguous- he is neither a goal-scoring midfielder or a defensive midfielder. A box-to-box role is perhaps the best solution, but there remains plenty of room for improvement in his decision making and use of the ball. Joe Allen’s resurgence is a welcome boost, and James Milner seems to be contributing greater quality on a more regular basis. Jordan Henderson is clearly struggling with his recurrent heel injury, but he remains one of the few players worthy of a starting role beyond this season. He will be back to his best soon enough. On the whole, however, Liverpool’s midfield is too lightweight, lacking in physicality and creative ability.
Up front, Christian Benteke shows no signs of improving. The £32.5 million Belgian looks nothing but an expensive mistake- immobile, offside and unwilling to put in the work rate Klopp demands. Most of the time he isn’t even in the penalty area- no wonder he struggles to score goals. The thinking behind signing Benteke remains a mystery and a costly misjudgement by Rodgers. Liverpool’s lack of goals has been a major problem, although Roberto Firmino has stepped up to the plate recently with 5 goals in 5 league appearances. The imminent return of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, along with Divock Origi, will significantly improve Klopp’s options, although history has taught us never to rely on Sturridge’s fitness, as good as he is.
Overall, the Liverpool squad paints a grim picture. Leaking goals at one end, unable to score enough at the other and a dearth of quality in between. It will take a hefty shakeup in the summer for Klopp to begin to piece together his own squad of players suited to his philosophy. An entire new spine to the side is needed, not only for quality but also for leadership, authority and experience- three attributes missing from this Liverpool side. The decision not to begin this rebuilding process with a couple of new signings in January was a wasted opportunity to integrate new signings before the summer. Refusing to pay the asking price for Alex Teixeira was understandable, but the lack of alternative options was frustrating in light of Liverpool’s toothlessness in front of goal this season. The repetitive pattern of dominating possession but failing to score will most likely continue throughout the rest of the season.
Beyond the many cracks in Liverpool’s squad, the miserable mood hanging over the club and its supporters has been exacerbated by the recent announcement of the new ticket prices for 2016/17, which will hit many fans, especially from the local area. There are some small benefits of the new scheme, but the decision to charge £77 for the most expensive match day tickets is one of greed and a lack of understanding about what this club means to the fans. The anger among supporters was expressed in the 77th minute walk-out at Anfield today, in which thousands of fans left the stadium in protest. Liverpool then conceded twice in the last ten minutes. This is not the special bond Klopp wanted to create with the fans. FSG must take action and understand that an extra £2 million profit from ticket sales will hurt the very fanbase which makes this club what it is.
The overall picture is of a club in crisis both on and off the pitch. The team aren’t producing the quality of performances we should expect, and the timing of the decision to announce the raised ticket prices could not have been worse. Klopp’s tools are severely limited and until the summer, we can expect results to continue to be erratic and underwhelming until the necessary mass clear-out and injection of quality can take place. The team morale is evidently in tatters, as illustrated by the late capitulation against Sunderland and the weak, spineless performances against sides of inferior quality but superior physicality and cohesion. We are currently in the midst of a storm, and any remaining hopes of salvaging a modicum of success from this tumultuous season hinges upon winning one of the three cup competitions we still have to play for. Although the current situation is grim, thankfully we have a manager who has been through a similar process before at Dortmund. As the song goes, ‘at the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky’- and Jurgen Klopp will lead us there.