LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 24, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp arrives before the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 244th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jurgen Klopp’s persistent problem that Arne Slot must not repeat

It is rare that there is ever a single, all-encompassing explanation for the sort of sudden collapse that has effectively ended Liverpool’s season over the course of the last two weeks.

But when an entire squad appears to lose form simultaneously, it is surely fair to ask if it might be rooted in one factor.

How can it be that the very same players who snapped into challenges, bullied opponents, and were ruthless in front of goal early in the campaign now look so slow, weak, and blunt?

Well, in the Reds’ case, it is hard to look beyond a mid-season injury crisis whose consequences appear only to have been delayed, rather than avoided entirely.

Clearly, Liverpool now have several players who were forced to take on too much during periods in which their teammates were sidelined, and look exhausted as a result.

What’s more, those who have come back from fitness issues are struggling with a loss of rhythm and sharpness, meaning they are some way short of their best.

The ramifications are missed chances, lost duels, and performances like those seen against Atalanta and Everton, which have derailed any hopes of further trophies being secured.


Klopp’s role – the pressing problem

BERGAMO, ITALY - Thursday, April 18, 2024: Liverpool's lm' waves to supporters after the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match between BC Atalanta and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But if it sounds like pointing this out is to absolve key figures at Anfield of any blame, then that is not the case.

The fact is, it is starting to feel like injury crises such as those that have hampered this campaign have simply become a feature of the latter part of Jurgen Klopp’s reign, and that the German is not entirely innocent.

Although Liverpool’s problems last season were many in number, persistent fitness issues were among them, and the same can be said of the forgettable 2020/21 campaign.

So, that is three out of the last four years in which injuries have played a significant role, a record that surely can’t be pinned on simple bad luck.

Instead, you wonder if the famously physical approach favoured by Klopp is starting to take its toll, and if it is sustainable to continue in a similar vein once he departs.

Evidence of Liverpool’s favoured style can be seen in the fact that they have averaged three tackles per 90 minutes in their attacking third this season, the third highest in the Premier League behind Everton (3.09) and Tottenham (3.31).

And, given that all top teams now use pressing as an important tool, it is no surprise to see Arsenal (2.82) and Manchester City (2.66) are not too far behind in fifth and eighth place respectively.

However, the huge difference between the title rivals can be seen in the fact that the Reds also rank third for tackles in the middle third of the pitch (7.41), while Arsenal (6.5) are 12th, and City (5.91) way down in 18th.


Intensity = injury issues

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 31, 2024: Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister with an injury during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Clearly, Klopp is instructing his players to try and win the ball back aggressively across a far larger area, and a look at the three sides’ injury records this term suggests that comes at a cost.

City are further aided by the fact they often rest on the ball as the most dominant team in terms of possession in the league, while Arsenal’s superior compactness appears to reduce the distances they have to cover in rest defence.

The end result is that Liverpool are contending with injury problems more regularly than any title-chasing team can deal with.

Yes, the Reds have had their fair share of unfortunate blows, such as Joel Matip’s ACL rupture, Diogo Jota’s knee injury at Brentford, and Thiago Alcantara’s troublesome hip.

But repeat muscle problems for the likes of Mohamed Salah, Dominik Szoboszlai and Ibrahima Konate felt avoidable, and turned a potentially difficult period into a full-blown crisis.

And that this has happened so frequently in recent years throws up the question of whether Liverpool’s next coach should be quite so wedded to such an aggressive defensive setup.

In Arne Slot, Michael Edwards and co appear to have identified a continuity candidate whose pressing style makes him a good fit to take charge of a squad built in Klopp’s image.

But if the Dutchman is to thrive at Anfield, then being subtly different to his immensely successful predecessor in terms of how the press is implemented might be just as useful as any similarities between the two managers.