LIVERPOOL, England – It’s every week now that Liverpool seem to be losing another little piece of themselves. An unbeaten home record dating back more than three years disappeared in January and was cheered away by Burnley. The feel of Anfield as a fortress collapsed soon after and was quickly stormed by Brighton and then Manchester City.
The golden afterglow of the long-awaited Premier League crown that arrived last summer has been diminishing for some time, but it finally darkened last week when Jurgen Klopp conceded the Premier League title while still in the bitter grip of winter.
And then, on Saturday night, when fireworks boomed and car horns roared across Merseyside, what was perhaps the most painful shift of all came. Everton hadn’t won an Anfield this century. It hadn’t won a derby at all in more than a decade. For Liverpool, the impotence of its neighbor and rival had been a source of such unbridled joy that it had long since fused into part of its identity.
But now that’s all gone too. Richarlison gave Everton the lead after just three minutes. Carlo Ancelotti’s team kept Liverpool at arm’s length for the remainder of the evening with a certain amount of comfort that was just disheveled in tangles.
The only indication that the Everton players knew they were about to make history – or maybe to end it – came in their celebrations when Gylfi Sigurdsson finished the game within 10 minutes of the penalty spot and the 2: 0 line completed. The reactions were violent and final, and the sound of a curse was lifted. On the line of contact, Duncan Ferguson, who had been part of the fabric of Everton for nearly 20 years, first as a player and now as a coach, bounced up and down.
Of course, Ancelotti and his players deserve praise and admiration for the precision and poise of their performance, but the approach that brought them the win was based on a confluence of factors. First, of course, your team needs to be focused, disciplined, and organized: not far from being perfect.
Second, if you are out of luck, at least you don’t have to be unlucky: even the finest plan can be undone by an unfortunate ricochet of the ball, an arbitrary distraction, a moment of amazement.
And third, your opponent must be missing. A team full of confidence, energy, and ideas will mostly find a way through even the most masterful defense. In Liverpool, all of these things were absolutely and absolutely absent.
It’s not hard to figure out why Liverpool are so busy this season. Klopp certainly doesn’t think there’s a big secret here. Liverpool have not only lost Virgil Van Dijk but also Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to injury, tearing the base out of their defense and team. Klopp had no choice but to cut his midfield to improve his defense.
But that’s just the beginning. At times it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong for Liverpool this season has gone wrong. It’s easier to list the players who haven’t spent at least a few weeks in the treatment room: Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané.
Fabinho, the first midfielder to be drafted into defense, is currently out with his own injury. Jordan Henderson, the second, hobbled away with a groin injury in the first half of Saturday. Alisson Becker, widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world and a reassuring presence in Liverpool’s defenders, made three blatant mistakes in the defeats to Manchester City and Leicester.
However, if the root of the problem does not require forensic investigation, then the answer may be. This season Klopp sometimes seemed noticeably more indescribable than usual. He bumped into television reporters, snatched journalists at press conferences and exchanged crossword puzzles with opposing managers.
When it emerged earlier this month that he had witnessed a personal tragedy – his mother’s death – it seemed to explain the change in mood. However, Klopp firmly believes that he is capable of this subdivide his feelings;; Those who work with him say that there has been no real change. Klopp has always been prickly. What has changed is perception. The tension from a position of force is a flexion of the muscles. From a weak position, it looks very much like a tantrum.
Indeed, it is noteworthy that although what started as a slump has turned into a slump and now looks like a spiraling four home defeats – the club’s worst run since 1923 – Liverpool have not sought a change in Sort.
This applies to the entire club – the failure to have a central defensive reinforcement ready on January 1st was the act of a club that operated in the old world, not in the new – and this is especially true for Klopp. The style has stayed the same. The system has stayed the same. “The only way I know is to try again and again,” he said on Friday.
It was a powerful statement. Klopp is the archetype of a so-called system trainer: He has a way of playing that is burned into his soul. His counterpart at Everton, Ancelotti, is the opposite: a manager who once coached Andrea Pirlo but in another time is perfectly content to instruct Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey to keep hitting the ball hopefully and hopefully with the right current in the wind catch.
Such pragmatism is anathema to Klopp. Changing your style, which is so important to your identity, would mean changing yourself. That, of course, is the trait that has brought him such success; However, it is possible that under certain circumstances it also limits its loyalty to the system from being harmful if external factors cause the system itself to no longer function.
Klopp already experienced such a run in his last year at Borussia Dortmund – a time when it feels like nothing is going right. Even then, his squad suffered from injuries. In previous seasons, he had also dealt with the departure of a number of key players. He refused to compromise his beliefs. Dortmund finished seventh and he stepped back.
This year’s echoes are getting stronger with each week in Liverpool, with every new and unwanted record that falls. Liverpool always do the same things and expect different results. A team hits its head against a wall. It keeps losing all these little bits of itself, lost in the shadow of an identity that can’t stand change.