After the “worst” performance from one his teams in his professional career, Jurgen Klopp now knows – if he didn’t already – that he has quite the rebuilding job on his hands at Liverpool.
There’s still plenty of talent in the squad – and he can count on this five to build around – but this lot need an upgrade…
Jones has started just 25 Premier League games after making his debut over three years ago. “We have to now really make the next steps and make sure that he fulfils the potential he has on the pitch,” Klopp said a year ago. Jones has started eight Premier League games since and with Liverpool in desperate need of energy and quality in central midfield this season he’s started only once.
With Henderson and Fabinho’s downturn, amid reports of Liverpool’s interest in Jude Bellingham and Matheus Nunes, this is Jones’ chance and he’s squandering it.
Hugely underrated until now, Matip suddenly looks like the player he has consistently proved he isn’t in his time at Liverpool. At first glance he’s always looked slow, cumbersome and eminently get-at-able, and while he absolutely wasn’t before – with those first impressions quickly dispelled and replaced by a strong sense of gravitas and composure – he absolutely is now.
One bad touch will lead to three or four with confidence at an all-time low, and with him forced to run back towards his own goal more than ever before, deficiencies that have perhaps previously been hidden are now plain for all to see.
He’s suffered the biggest drop of form of any Liverpool player this season and is therefore seen by many as the figurehead for the team’s demise.
There was a point a couple of seasons ago when he was among the best in the world in his position – there was no-one Liverpool would rather have at the base of midfield. Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson buzzed around ahead of him while Fabinho allowed them and the forwards to push on, safe in the knowledge that he was there to screen the back four, win the ball and get it back into the feet of the creators almost instantaneously.
He now plays as though he’s on day release from a care home, ambling around Anfield looking for his medication.
“The energy level is low,” is about the most telling thing the captain could have said after their humbling defeat to Brighton. Henderson has been at the centre of a team built on high energy. When you think of the best Liverpool performances under Jurgen Klopp you think of red shirts swarming the opposition, with crosses and chances being created at a seemingly impossible rate of knots, and inevitably, Henderson shouting at his teammates should they dare to lose a duel or fail to do their job.
Klopp’s football must be knackering for everyone, but for Henderson in particular given his need to set the example and buoy his teammates. He’s only 32 but pushing 40 in Klopp years, with a season under the German worth two under your average Premier League manager.
Virgil van Dijk
He’s not the worst Liverpool centre-back – he may even still be the best – but Klopp’s side are really struggling without the best, or even close to the best, version of Van Dijk. He’s not been the same since his injury, and he’s been targeted this season by opposition players and teams who previously wouldn’t have dared.
The lack of pressure on the ball ahead of him certainly hasn’t helped but there’s also a sense that Van Dijk’s lost a bit in his body and a bit in his mind – enough to make him fallible. Replacing him will be nigh-on impossible but given Klopp isn’t about to alter his style to incorporate anything but the high defensive line that’s brought him and Liverpool so much success, he’s going to have to find a centre-back as dominant as Van Dijk was if he wants to turn them back into Premier League contenders.