A year ago, Liverpool were just a few weeks removed from winning the Carabao Cup. Meanwhile they were still battling on three fronts as talk turned to a possible quadruple. The whispers would turn to cacophonous shouts when they won the FA Cup, reached the Champions League final and took the Premier League title race to the final day.
Jurgen Klopp’s men would fall just short, with Manchester City rallying from two down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and clinch the title. Meanwhile, Real Madrid would outfox them in the final of the Champions League. But a domestic cup double and a spirited challenge for a quadruple was seen as a fine platform to build from.
But a year later, Liverpool find themselves languishing in eighth place in the Premier League table. There is little solace to be found in the cups that were such a comfort last season. The Carabao Cup resides with their rivals Manchester United, while Brighton & Hove Albion dumped them out of the FA Cup at the fourth round stage. There will be no redemptive, Istanbul-style Champions League night either. Real Madrid ended Liverpool’s run in the competition for the second year in a row, knocking them out in the round of 16.
For a club of Liverpool’s standing, this season is nothing short of a disaster. Normally for an elite side, the manager’s job would be at risk after such an alarming drop-off. So why is nobody talking about Klopp losing his job?
This crucial stage of this season has seen multiple clubs evaluate their coaches. Several Premier League managers have just been let go, including Chelsea’s Graham Potter, Antonio Conte of Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers. But that sort of talk has never really taken hold at Anfield. The furthest it has got is people openly wondering when Klopp himself might choose to leave.
It is a clemency Klopp has earned of course. A trophy cabinet that includes the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Club World Cup deserves the utmost respect. Comfortably the greatest Liverpool manager of the Premier League era, Klopp is not the sort of figure you dispense with without significant deliberation. But is that deliberation taking place inside the walls of Liverpool’s Melwood training complex?
What seems more likely is that Klopp will be backed to complete a rebuild. This season has been tough but there are explanations for that that extend beyond the manager. The midfield is understrength and the owners need to put their hands in their pockets to change that. The likes of Jordan Henderson, Thiago and James Milner are being allowed to grow old together while the next generation, like Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott, isn’t quite at the elite level needed to replace them. They may get there of course, but in order to return Liverpool to their recent heights, Klopp needs midfielders in their prime.
The loss of Sadio Mane is something Liverpool are yet to recover from. Darwin Nunez looks good, but his bedding in period has seen him have a patchy season. Luis Diaz, such a revelation when he joined last January, has been limited to just eight league appearances through injury. Roberto Firmino is seeing out the last year of his contract and is no longer the force he once was. Mohamed Salah is still firing but Diogo Jota’s eye for goal has deserted him.
The team needs surgery and who better to perform it than the man responsible for the last mass Liverpool rebuild? However, very few managers successfully oversee a complete re-tooling of their club. Fatigue sets in for the coach and the players. The message becomes muddied as all parties grow too familiar with each other. This may be the only test Klopp has never passed in his career so far, chiefly because he has never had to. But can he inspire his Liverpool team to go again after nearly eight years at the helm?
It feels certain he will get that chance. After all, how do you part with a manager as popular and influential as Klopp without sending your club further into a spiral? Things would have to get truly desperate for the fans to turn. Even if they do, he’ll still be back for a statue unveiling one day you feel. But the rebuild won’t be straightforward. It feels unlikely Liverpool will qualify for the Champions League, which shrinks the pool of potential signings. With the midfield needing ready-made reinforcements and strengthening needed elsewhere, Klopp could be playing with a losing hand from the start.
Next season will be fascinating. Perhaps the Liverpool hierarchy will see their faith rewarded, and Klopp will cast off the disappointment of this season to build a brighter future at Anfield. But if he doesn’t and the poor results continue, one wonders how much patience will be shown. No manager manages a club forever, even one who has become as intrinsically linked to Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp has. The German will be afforded more time than most, but time waits for no man in football.
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