ARNAV KHANNA | 8th August 2021

Before you read on, I want you to pause and ask yourself one question:

“Where is Liverpool going to finish next season?”

Now the general consensus would be that the Reds are going to comfortably finish within the top 4, barring a calamity, but being crowned champions is a tough sell. Fair enough, or is it?

In the past 5 years, Liverpool have been the bride and the bridesmaids in two Champions League finals and ended their painstaking wait for a Premier League trophy and in style. 99 points, 32 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses.

Winning 20 out of their first 21 fixtures, bagging 61 points out of a possible 63, it took Ismaila Sarr to turn supernova to avoid a repeat of the Invincibles.

The “so what went wrong” question means you’re playing dumb. Everyone knows what happened.

But then why is it that with Virgil van Dijk back along with a packed Anfield; player for player, still having the best starting XI in the country alongside City; learning the Klopp way for years and years, the consensus is a surety that Liverpool cannot pick up exactly from where they left off?

The word, ‘surety’ is written in italics on purpose.

What seemed like an unstoppable force two years ago is being considered as second fiddle today. The “building a dynasty talks” seem like they were never had, but they most certainly were and rightfully so.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

Unlike FSG (Fenway Sports Group), Pep Guardiola has always been in touch with how football and winning go hand-in-hand, and reading his quotes on Jack Grealish, you can tell.

Winning once should push elite sides to reshuffle a squad with new names; names that have enough quality to keep the big dogs in the squad on their toes while bringing a renovated sense of wanting to triumph.

Sir Alex Ferguson did it, Pep Guardiola is doing it and Jürgen Klopp has been left stranded. We cannot discuss the denigration of Liverpool’s status without discussing the self-sabotage mission led by their owners.

Ibrahima Konate is a stellar talent to add to your already fortified defense but how is one signing enough? Especially when Gini Wijnaldum was a massive cog in Klopp’s blueprint and his absence has left a hole that is very much gaping.

Roberto Firmino’s form has fallen off a cliff, Sadio Mane had a surprise nosedive and yet, names such as Jarrod Bowen have come forward as fortification. Don’t get me wrong, the West Ham winger is a menace on his day but at Liverpool, their standards and their targets clearly fail to align.

Imagine Donyell Malen in that Liverpool front 3 this summer

While United have wrapped up Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, Romelu Lukaku is Chelsea-bound and Jack Grealish has already made his debut in a City shirt, the only moves the Merseyside outfit are making moves towards mediocrity.

The bottom line is that FSG have been beyond complacent while their rivals have been razor-sharp.

And since I mentioned Klopp’s system earlier, let’s delve deeper into that. As transformative as the German gaffer’s setup is, it isn’t far from the truth to say there’s cracks in it.

Being compact in the middle, staying touch tight on Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson while letting their midfield take over the creative onus and waiting to him them on the break. At the risk of oversimplifying the solution, this approach was a common sight last season.

The absences compound to the systemic issues but ultimately, it goes back to how the team hasn’t constantly elevated themselves in the transfer market. A variety in personnel leads to a variety in profiles that can ensure a side can mix up their approach.

For instance, Chelsea can afford to play a midfield of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount against a team in the lower half of the table since they expect to dictate possession.

However, they can also be the same side that annihilates Madrid on the counter, with N’Golo Kante playing in an advanced box-to-box role in order to win the ball high up the pitch and make them rapid in transition.

Two different approaches and the drop-off in the change of personnel is minimal.

In the case of Liverpool, the full-backs are the primary creators, coupled with a lethal front 3 and a workmanlike midfield. But if say, TAA is out for a month, not only are Neco Williams and James Milner far from ideas as understudies but the impact that has is mammoth.

Liverpool need their own rendition of Bruno Fernandes – actually, they needed such a player last year. Not just an output machine but a man to ensure the squad levels up in every aspect. And this should be the way to go at every club, summer after summer.

New leaders and standard bearers so that the spine strengthens consistently.

Again, gross negligence on FSG’s part and the price has to be paid by a fiercely loyal company man in Mr. Klopp. There is only so far that man can dig with a once-golden shovel that’s clearly got rust on it.

And if come August 13, the German doesn’t outthink himself IF Liverpool would essentially be playing poker with a hand of cards that the whole league has already seen.

Let us be very clear here- Jürgen Klopp could have built a dynasty at Liverpool. Instead he sits on a throne which has started to wobble. And unfortunately, it’s through no fault of his own considering the man is a master at his job.

Yes, the German has been notorious for not rotating his sides. And alright, eyebrows were raised when tired legs ran on the pitch and capable alternatives sat glued to the bench. Maybe the over-exertion lends a hand in the recurring muscle injuries. But the accuracy in these assumptions is comparable to a flip of a coin.

In the same vein, Liverpool could very well shock everyone next season and just prove why they’re an unreal outfit. But the mere fact that this would be a shock speaks volumes. From City and Liverpool being the benchmark, things have done a complete 180.

It should have never come down to this, but football is a ruthless sport and maybe Klopp should be ruthless himself if this season was to go south as well. His CV is adorned in gold and there’s not a club on the planet that couldn’t do with the German genius but that’s a conversation for another day perhaps.

The vagueness in the expectations just tells you Liverpool took 10 steps forward just to take….let’s go with, 6 back. What’s the opposite of progress again?