Monday, March 8, 2021

Klopp at Rock Bottom

THE RED COLLAPSE CONTINUES TO CONFOUND

On the day Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard's Rangers toasted their first Scottish Premiership crown since 2011, current Anfield saint Jurgen Klopp cut a haggard figure. 

His opposite number Scott Parker, sans blouson, looked full of the joys of Spring after Fulham had come away with all three points, but Klopp kept his puffer jacket zipped up tightly with a cap helping to shield as much of his stress as he could from the world outside.

Klopp
Jurgen Klopp at a loss

The reigning champions have now chalked up six straight home league defeats, the stuff of relegation. Only last-placed Sheffield United have lost four of the last five. 

Whispers have inevitably begun about Klopp himself, formally universally eulogised as the Anfield messiah for having ended their long wait for the title.

Liverpool's collective on-field ennui was plain to see yesterday. The gegenpressing which Klopp had imported from Germany had vanished. Fulham, a club in the bottom three, were graciously afforded the time and space in their first third to plan their attacks.

Second season syndrome is as much as affliction of champions relaxing after scaling a peak as it is of new boys up from the Championship struggling to maintain their honeymoon beyond one campaign, but something deeper is amiss with Liverpool right now.

After the Fulham defeat Klopp admitted the players do not have "the mentality we are used to", but offered no explanation.

How can a coach as talented as he be failing to motivate so many players match after match? That is the question. 

Scrutinize the suspects and you are still searching for answers. The loss of first-choice centre-backs Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk, though arguably enough to cost them a repeat title, cannot be blamed alone for this malaise.

While the defence is porous, the forward line is not firing either and so there has been a collective dip in confidence, plain for all to see.

Klopp's mother dying in January and him being unable to fly to her funeral cannot have helped either, but away from home Liverpool have won five out of eight in 2021, which is curious.

A lack of home fans has not stopped them advancing in the Champions League or stopped seven clubs outperforming them in the Premier League.

Could he have bought or rotated better? Yes, as could every coach. The only satisfying answer to the conundrum 'What is wrong with Liverpool?' is a don't know and that the culprit is an ill-defined cocktail of factors which when have combined to poison the Anfield well of confidence.

As for replacing King Klopp with Stevie G, it will happen sooner or later. The prodigal son is a parable which sits quite comfortably with a club in love with its own mythologies.

Liverpool were awash with legends when I was growing up. The red machine was apparently invincible and the glow of greatness was rekindled last season. But the Reds were down in the second tier from 1954-'62 and were transformed into a super club by Bill Shankly, their rugged Scottish manager from 1959 to 1973.

Storied traditions have to begin somewhere. Shankly attributed the transformation to a little Scottish striker he signed in 1961. Ian St John, who died last week aged 82, netted 118 goals in 425 games including the winner in Liverpool's first F.A. Cup final win in 1965.

In the 1980s 'Saint' became a TV fixture as one of the first players to cross over into screen journalism and presenting. His chirpy enthusiasm was apparent even last year while cancer was claiming him, when he made an emotional visit to Melwood.

Liverpool could do with some of the Saint's blessings right now.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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