Sports

Liverpool season that promised so much lurches toward crisis

Soccer Football – Premier League – Liverpool v Leeds United – Anfield, Liverpool, Britain – October 29, 2022 Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez reacts REUTERS/Phil Noble

Widely tipped to be champions Manchester City’s closest challengers for the Premier League title, Liverpool’s fourth defeat of the season on Saturday has instead seen their campaign lurching towards crisis.

Liverpool only lost two league games last season as they came agonizingly 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 their exploits, Liverpool spent big on Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez – the second most expensive player in their history at an initial 75 million euros ($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 them or City would become eventual champions, with the other finishing second.

City has kept up their end of the bargain, winning nine of their 12 games so far to sit two points behind leaders 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, their first home league defeat since March 2021.

“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, aging stars

Coach Juergen Klopp has escaped blame from supporters, given all he has achieved in seven seasons at Anfield, with fans targeting the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group for a lack of investment in an aging 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 aging, weary squad.

For a team that prioritizes high-intensity pressing, the fact they have the third-oldest average starting XI in the Premier League so far this season does not help their cause.

Slow starts have not helped matters either. Liverpool has conceded first in seven of their 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 them to glory saw his side bottom of the Bundesliga by late November of the 2014-15 campaign.

Dortmund also conceded first 17 times in that season, but recovered to finish seventh. They have never finished as far down the table since.

With Arsenal still firing on all cylinders, City doing what they do, Manchester United improving and Chelsea finding their feet under new coach Graham Potter, Liverpool’s trip to Spurs on Sunday becomes crucial, even this early in the season.

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