Liverpool are, as ever, too focused on the past. This time it is only back to 2015 rather than the 1980s, at least, but it is still detrimental. A breathtaking thrashing of Manchester City 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium in November of that year rings loudly over any big game Liverpool now play. It was a wonderful display as they tore Manuel Pellegrini’s City team apart, going 3-0 up in just over half an hour of action.
Manchester City calmed the Reds after the initial onslaught, but it could have been a far uglier score line in truth. Liverpool were superb as they pressed, harried and humiliated City. Space was closed down and the ball was moved far too quickly for City to be able to cope with. This was the moment that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool was born.
Two cup final defeats followed that season as Liverpool failed to return to the promised land of the top four. The Champions League was still a step too far for Klopp and that theme is set to continue this season.
Although they are the current incumbents of the famed fourth spot, Liverpool are not performing to the standards of a team capable of competing into the depths of the campaign. Their collapse in 2017 has seen them fall from title contenders to where they probably expected to be at the start of the season; jostling for position in a crowded queue for the final Champions League space.
Klopp has had difficulties with recruitment since his arrival at Anfield. Often touted to be in the hunt for a player before he is swept away from them or their supposed interest comes to an end, Liverpool are still functioning with a squad that is understrength for what they are aiming to do. Buying young has been their policy, but that is no excuse to leave a first team squad without adequate options in goal, defence or deep-lying midfield.
This season, though, they were flying high even with a flawed squad. Klopp’s widely approved heavy metal football was working wonders for the opening weeks of the season. A blip against Burnley was the only blot on a goal-heavy, excitement-filled copybook.
Their form has since continued in their matches against fellow top six teams, but elsewhere it has dropped off of a rocky cliff edge. Partly adaptation from opponents and partly that their free-flowing football is not quite hitting all the notes like it was a few months ago, Liverpool are paying the price for their squad. Klopp is limited on options to change their approach and individual errors continue to cost them.
A great beginning gave hope, it gave a glimmer of what Liverpool could become under Klopp, but too many issues in the team – in terms of tactics and personnel – have been untouched.
Domestically there will be an improvement this season on their eighth place finish in 2015/16. Without the nearly moments of any cup finals or the distraction of Europa League football, though, Liverpool have not made the progress they should have done since that coming of age against Manchester City.