Widely tipped to be champion Manchester City’s closest challenger for the Premier League title, Liverpool’s fourth defeat of the season on Saturday has instead seen its campaign lurching towards crisis.
Liverpool only lost two league games last season as it came agonisingly close to an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League final and finishing one point behind City. Looking to build on its exploits, Liverpool spent big on Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez — the second most expensive player in its history at an initial EUR 75 million (USD 74.51 million) — and brought an end to a painful contract saga by getting Mohamed Salah to sign a new deal.
The season, therefore, promised so much, with almost every single pundit predicting it or City would become eventual champion, with the other finishing second.
City has kept up its end of the bargain, winning nine of its 12 games so far to sit two points behind leader Arsenal. Liverpool, however, has fallen off a cliff. “Clearly as a team something’s not going right, it’s not going as well as we want it to go,” Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold said on Saturday after his side’s 2-1 loss to Leeds United, its first home league defeat since March 2021.
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“I’d say we all believe in ourselves, we believe in the way we play, we believe in the squad and what we can achieve, but I think when you do get setbacks, it can potentially make you second-guess yourself and question things. We must make sure we put it right, especially next week against Tottenham (Hotspur), top-four rivals. We kind of need to go there and get some points if we’ve got any chance of reaching our aims and aspirations for the season.”
The fact Liverpool players have lowered their sights on just securing a top-four spot, rather than wrestling the Premier League trophy back from City, tells you all you need to know.
SLOW STARTS, AGEING STARS
Coach Jurgen Klopp has escaped blame from supporters, given all he has achieved in seven seasons at Anfield, with fans targeting the club’s owner Fenway Sports Group for a lack of investment in an ageing squad.
While Nunez’s arrival was welcome, especially after key forward Sadio Mane left for Bayern Munich in the close season, other big name signings were not forthcoming, leaving Klopp with an ageing, weary squad. For a team that prioritises high-intensity pressing, the fact it has the third-oldest average starting XI in the Premier League so far this season does not help its cause.
Slow starts have not helped matters either. Liverpool has conceded first in seven of its 12 league games thus far — only lowly Southampton has been breached first more often this term.
Klopp’s critics have drawn parallels to his final season at Borussia Dortmund before he left for Liverpool, where an over-reliance on star names who had previously inspired it to glory saw his side bottom of the Bundesliga by late November of the 2014-15 campaign.
Dortmund also conceded the first 17 times in that season, but recovered to finished seventh. It never finished as far down the table since.
With Arsenal still firing on all cylinders, City doing what it does, Manchester United improving and Chelsea finding its feet under new coach Graham Potter, Liverpool’s trip to Spurs on Sunday becomes crucial, even this early in the season.