Liverpool have reached the halfway stage in the Premier League campaign sitting fourth, but what have we learned from a strange season so far?
Only twice in the first 19 games of the season have the Reds been sat lower than their current position – they were eighth after opening weekend and then fifth following the 7-2 loss to Aston Villa in October.
Exit from both the FA Cup and the League Cup should be considered collateral damage, as the focus is on glory in the league and Europe, but as a run of five games without a win shows, nothing is guaranteed.
Here are seven things we’ve learned at the halfway stage of Liverpool’s season.
Liverpool need a new centre-back
We’ll start with the obvious one, shall we?
The problems are well-documented and therefore not worth poring over, but with less than a week remaining of the January transfer window it seems unlikely a new defender will be brought in.
Contact with Sokratis, after his release from Arsenal and prior to his signing for Olympiakos, suggests the openness to bring in short-term cover, but the options are limited.
It is a difficult situation, but one that could hold major ramifications for the rest of the campaign.
You can’t plan for everything
At the start of the season, Liverpool looked to be in excellent shape, boasting arguably one of their strongest squads in recent memory in terms of the first-choice starters and the depth beyond those.
But in the most unique of campaigns, it has become clear that Klopp could not plan for everything.
Not only has the ridiculous demand on players led to an increase in injuries, but the ever-looming threat of COVID-19 has also seen a number of key names sidelined throughout.
It should not be overlooked that had even one of Van Dijk or Gomez avoided their long-term layoffs – particularly the former, given it was an avoidable injury – the chain reaction of Fabinho dropping back into defence would not have occurred.
Not every youngster is Trent
The strain on Klopp’s squad has led to a reliance on youth – which certainly has its virtues, but opportunity has made way for dependency as the problems continue.
But it is an unfair situation for these youngsters called upon to cover for world-class players – not every academy graduate can step up as smoothly as Trent Alexander-Arnold did.
Patience is required, but unfortunately, the circumstances ensure that is not entirely possible.
The succession plan is already underway
Amid a barren run for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Jamie Carragher argued that “sooner or later that front three will have to be broken up,” pointing to all three reaching their late 20s.
While it may have been an overreaction to suggest that Firmino could be “phased out or moved on,” given he now looks to be getting back to form, the need for a succession plan is clear.
Of course, the burden on Liverpool’s title-winning front three would have been eased significantly were Diogo Jota fit – and the Portuguese is an example of the succession plan already being in effect.
At 24, Jota is not only primed to make an immediate impact – as his nine goals in 17 pre-injury appearances proves – but he has vast scope for development to eventually take over from one of Salah, Mane or Firmino.
Meanwhile, the next piece of the puzzle may be stepping up away from Anfield…
Klopp has a future gem on loan
There is genuine potential for Harvey Elliott to emerge as a key player for Liverpool in the future.
He’s showing that at Blackburn, where he has already scored four and assisted eight in 21 games for the club, largely playing on the opposite wing to that which Jota has for Klopp.
Now shorn of his trademark topknot, Elliott is the joint-top assist-maker in the Championship, with only Norwich’s Emi Buendia (3.4) is averaging more key passes per 90 than the 17-year-old (2.2).
“I did wonder whether he would be someone who would just turn it on when the going was good,” Lancashire Telegraph journalist Rich Sharpe told This Is Anfield, “but he’s dug them out of a number of holes and become something of a go-to man.”
Not often do players head out on loan and return to claim a first-team role, but the stage is set for Elliott.
Fabinho may be Liverpool’s MVP
Throughout the first half of the season, in success and failure, a number of players have stood up to prove their worth and drag Liverpool to results.
But no player has proved as valuable as Fabinho, whose ability to step into an emergency role at centre-back has been remarkable.
The Brazilian has been close to world class at the back for the majority of the campaign, which given he has very little experience of the position is remarkable.
His absence in midfield is a detriment to Liverpool, of course, but the versatility of Klopp’s No. 3 outlines his case for MVP status.
This really is a season like no other
Liverpool now find themselves embroiled in a crisis, but as the first five months of the campaign have shown, there could be many peaks and troughs to come for every side.
The likes of Man City, Tottenham, Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all endured struggles of their own, and while United sit top of the table after 19 games, there is no telling who will ultimately finish as champions.
A hard fight awaits Liverpool, however, if they are to salvage their title defence – but if any season should come with an asterisk, it is this one.