There comes a certain point in every season when a team’s title hopes come crashing down, leaving supporters to wistfully think about what could have been. The early–season momentum inexplicably turns to dust, and the team’s lofty championship goals shift to securing a spot in European football competitions.
For Liverpool fans everywhere, that point is now. The Reds have endured a miserable January, capturing only one win out of a possible eight. The team once sat in second — not far behind league-leading Chelsea — but now find itself in fourth place and a full 10 points back from first.
A yearlong winning record at Anfield was snapped by none other than Swansea — a team that has been fighting to get out of the relegation zone for the entire season. Coupled with another loss to Bournemouth, it is no wonder that morale is low for the team that beat Manchester City earlier.
Even the dreamer in me must now admit that Liverpool’s chances of winning the title — and ending the painful drought — are now practically impossible. It would take a collapse of epic proportions from the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal for the Reds to be able to win.
While many quickly turn to management as a scapegoat in situations like this one, Liverpool’s manager should not be held fully responsible.
It must be made clear that Jurgen Klopp is still the manager who will restore Liverpool’s glory.
A temporary bump in the road is hardly a reason to get rid of the man who has already brought so much hope back into the hearts of the Merseyside faithful.
It is shameful that there are fans who are already calling for his dismissal. While it is true that this past month has been difficult — and some of that blame could be laid on Klopp’s squad formations — he is still the right man for the job.
A large reason for the current change in fortunes is the absence of playmaker Sadio Mané, who has been playing in the African Nations Cup for the past month. The goals have simply dried up in his absence, a far cry from the team that was outscoring opponents left and right.
Mané is critical of Klopp’s gegenpressing that relies heavily on speed in order to catch teams off-guard on the counterattack. Mané’s temporary departure, combined with other playmaker Philippe Coutinho’s absence due to injury, has left the speedy duo of Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino looking rather lost.
It has gotten to the point that many are now calling for the disgraced Alberto Moreno to start playing. While Moreno is a terrible defender, it must be acknowledged that the Spaniard is incredibly fast and could find success in some kind of midfielder role.
For once, Liverpool’s dip in form cannot be blamed on goalkeeping. Since re-securing the starting job, the often-maligned Simon Mignolet has done a brilliant job. While there are still some questionable moments, Mignolet is currently playing some of the best football in his Liverpool career, and it would be ridiculous to replace him with Loris Karius again.
Defensively, there are still far too many moments in a game when the fans are left to ponder what on earth the defenders were thinking. Silly mistakes often prove costly, making it fortunate for Liverpool that Mignolet has improved his play.
James Milner continues to delight in his role as a converted left back, and even center back Dejan Lovren — who many thought would turn out to be yet another Brendan Rodgers flop — has been playing fairly well on the whole.
The Reds have been hampered by confusion surrounding center back Joel Matip’s eligibility, meaning that they have been without the reliable defender for quite some time. Matip’s refusal to play for Cameroon in the African Nations Cup created uncertainty as to whether or not Liverpool could field the player in compliance with FIFA’s rules.
Fortunately for Liverpool, FIFA has given Matip the green light to play, a move that should bolster the defense. But Mané’s absence on the offensive front all but ensures struggles continue for Liverpool.
That is not to say that Liverpool is in danger of not qualifying for European football next season. Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all have the exact same number of losses and when compared to Manchester City, Liverpool’s woes pale. In fact, I would be shocked if Liverpool did not finish in the top four because despite its current problems, Liverpool is still a very good team. It is time, though, to admit to ourselves that a top-four finish is the best Klopp’s team can do for now. Here’s to the season that could have been.
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