A month is a very long time in football. That may be something of a cliché, but what makes a phrase a cliché is that it is usually correct and at the moment Liverpool can certainly relate.
On the final day of 2016, Liverpool were full of confidence and ‘certain’ – according to most fans – to push Chelsea all the way in the title race after beating Manchester City 1-0 at home. That victory also left their visitors’ challenge looking pretty hopeless.
But January has been an unmitigated disaster for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. The German manager could do no wrong just a few weeks ago, but now he is actually starting to find himself under a little pressure.
Liverpool have so far played eight matches in January (and face Chelsea on Tuesday). Granted, that’s a pretty hectic schedule, but Klopp has got his team selections wrong on several occasions and, in terms of their silverware chances, this month has effectively ended all hopes.
Their solitary win amongst those eight matches came in their 1-0 FA Cup replay triumph at League Two Plymouth Argyle. They were swiftly dumped out of that competition on Saturday, though; Championship side Wolves beating them 2-1 at Anfield.
Klopp’s team selection was a mix of youngsters, fringe players and a couple of first-team regulars, with numerous key men left out after losing 1-0 at home to Southampton in the EFL Cup. He rotated his squad and it back-fired – they now have just 16 matches left of the season and no realistic chance of success. It’s as if he has forgotten that supporters remember winning trophies, not scraping a top-four finish.
Comparisons are starting to be made between Klopp’s tenure and that of Brendan Rodgers. Under everyone’s favourite David Brent impersonator Liverpool made a habit of not beating opposition that most expected them to, and a quick glance at their record in January suggest the similarity has credence.
They failed to beat Wolves, Southampton (twice), Swansea City, Plymouth, Sunderland and Manchester United in January, with their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford the only commendable result. And even then Klopp’s system was rather easily destroyed by Jose Mourinho’s tactical switch to a more direct approach.
Liverpool fans and militant Kloppites will also grimace at the fact that the defeat to Wolves left their German manager’s win percentage at 49%, four less than David Moyes’ ill-fated spell at United.
It’s official Moyes is better than Klopp pic.twitter.com/blwQKotvQx
— @ManUtd_HQ (@ManUtd_HQ) January 27, 2017
Supporters will no doubt be eager to point out that, as has already been noted in this piece, Liverpool did beat Manchester City – a pretty good side – just before this rather awful run. Yes, you would be correct. They also beat Stoke 4-1 and Everton at Goodison Park in December.
But go back a little further. Yes, their first two matches in the final month of 2016 were a 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth – the collapse which shall be playfully dubbed the ‘anti-Istanbul’ – and a 2-2 home draw with West Ham United. Whatever way you cut it, Liverpool have shown little sign of genuine, meaningful progression since Klopp replaced Rodgers.
Sure, the signings have generally been of a higher standard, but if anything that should count against Klopp even more. He’s still seeing Liverpool slump to disappointing results against poorer opposition despite spending more money on better players – though Georginio Wijnaldum has done little to warrant the £26.5 million spent on him so far.
But don’t mistake this for a call to arms for the Liverpool board. It’s unlikely that they are sharpening the axe at this moment in time and if there’s one thing that is irritating about modern football it is the rampant disregard often present when club’s dismiss of managers every couple of months.
But, if Klopp can’t guide Liverpool to a strong top-four finish this season with only the Premier League to focus on, he won’t have a leg to stand on when he’s pushed out of the Anfield exit door.
Making excuses for Klopp. “Squad isn’t as strong”. So play the 1st XI then, you plank. And come up with a plan B. And get your teeth fixed.
— Doc Joshi (@Doc_Joshi) January 29, 2017