Liverpool’s reputation as “Mentality Monsters” has evaporated during an increasingly frustrating season, with old habits coming back to bite them hard.
The Reds are the Premier League‘s great entertainers again – what a shame.
The weekend thriller at Chelsea can be added to similarly frenetic outings against Brentford, West Ham and Tottenham this season, as their title hopes lie somewhere between hanging by a thread and moribund.
While the watching neutrals are certainly getting their money’s worth, these are concerning times from a Liverpool perspective.
Return of 2017/18 Liverpool
Klopp’s first few years as Reds manager saw huge progress made, but there were shortcomings throughout the team.
Unfortunately, this is a theme that has returned at times this season and it looks to have cost Liverpool a genuine title challenge by early January.
The draw at Chelsea was the Reds’ sixth in the league already in 2021/22 – 12 goals have been conceded in them – and on five of those occasions, they have blown leads to eventually drop points.
Klopp’s team have won 12 out of 17 matches after going in front, while Man City have prevailed on all 17 occasions, which speaks volumes.
Liverpool’s points dropped from winning positions:
2017/18 – 14
2018/19 – 6
2019/20 – 5
2020/21 – 12
2021/22 – 10 (so far)
It is a far cry from the peak level of this great side, when only five points were dropped after leading in the entire 2019/20 campaign – both when the title had already been won.
Liverpool were always going to have to perform to a near-perfect standard in order to get the better of City and they produced remarkable form over the course of 2018/19 and 2019/20.
During that period, the Reds amassed a freakish tally of 196 points – City got 179 in that time.
The only defeat in 2018/19 came at City, when Pep Guardiola’s side won the title by a point, but Liverpool’s efforts would have brought them glory in all but one of the other seasons in Premier League history.
The following year, the Merseysiders went up a further notch, dropping just two points in their opening 27 league matches and winning the league by 18 points.
Despite Liverpool’s all-conquering brilliance, they didn’t cruise through every game, though, as their elite mentality came to the fore.
In comparison, Liverpool have only won by one goal twice in the league this season – back-to-back triumphs against Wolves and Villa last month.
In moments of adversity, whether that be through needing a last-gasp winner or defending a lead late on, the Reds’ class of 2019/20 stood tall, battling their way through fixture after fixture.
Now, they shrink in stature and resemble the pre-Virgil van Dijk era at Anfield.
The truly great sides win matches in undeserved fashion – look at City away to Arsenal last weekend – and Liverpool’s title-winners were the poster boys for that.
What’s the problem?
The one word that stands out when discussing Liverpool’s worrying dropoff is control.
During that unrivalled two-year spell of Klopp’s reign, the Reds were often in complete command of matches, dominating possession and squeezing the life out of teams.
There were rarely moments of sheer panic during games and Klopp’s notorious high line was played to perfection, as the entire unit system worked in unison.
What we have seen this season pales in comparison, with Liverpool going from being a perfectly well-oiled machine to one capable of flying off the tracks at any moment.
Jordan Henderson has dropped off alarmingly in a defensive sense this season, looking every bit his 31 years.
The captain is averaging just one tackle per game in the league, whereas he enjoyed a tally of 2.1 in 2019/20, perhaps highlighting a dip in intensity.
Alisson has made errors or failed to keep out saveable shots against West Ham, Spurs and Leicester, Van Dijk has looked something close to a mere mortal after serious injury, and Fabinho often looks leggy after injury or illness.
If that trio slip slightly below their prime level, the difference is going to show.
The truth may simply be that this Liverpool team has passed its absolute peak, with too many players either in their 30s or hurtling towards that milestone.
Gini Wijnaldum may have had his detractors, strangely, but his availability was priceless, not to mention his physicality and pressing ability. He has been a great loss.
A younger attacking option also has to come in, with Mane and Firmino not the players they were, as Klopp looks to create another great side and gradually move on some of the older guard.
Whether or not the manager has that in him remains to be seen, but the flaws in his current outfit have been laid bare too often to suggest it is just a blip.
Liverpool are still a top-class side and they should believe they can win the Champions League, so it is important that they aren’t suddenly treated as mediocre.
They just aren’t an all-time-great English side anymore and those wonderful memories of non-stop wins, clean sheets and peerless showings are a thing of the past.
It is all far more 2017/18 than 2019/20 these days, which makes for great entertainment but far too few ruthlessly efficient wins.