Liverpool has been worse in 2023

Liverpool has been worse in 2023

This time last year, Liverpool fans were dreaming of witnessing history, with the Reds on the verge of an unprecedented quadruple of trophy wins in English football.

It’s a totally different scenario now, with Jurgen Klopp’s team down to one chance at trophy this season – and an uphill challenge to finish in the top four.

They sit ninth in the Premier League, 21 points behind leaders Arsenal and ten points out of the Champions League rankings, while Brighton’s 92nd-minute goal ended their FA Cup defense in dramatic manner.

It was their second defeat in three weeks at Brighton, who sit three places above them in the league.

“This season has been nowhere near good enough,” stand-in captain Andy Robertson told ITV Sport after Kaoru Mitoma’s brilliant added-time winner.

“At the start of the year, we wanted a fresh start but that hasn’t happened – we’ve been worse. In the league, we haven’t been good enough and now we’re out of both cups.”

The exhausting schedule in pursuit of the quadruple last season has surely played its part in the struggle. A 63-game season – with every game having so much riding on it – would take its toll on any team.

The impact appears to have been psychological as well as physical, with Reds midfielder Thiago Alcantara admitting recently that coming so close to winning all four trophies – they won the League Cup and FA Cup but missed out on the Premier League on the final day and were beaten in the Champions League final – was hard to take.

Injuries have also played their part, with Klopp rarely able to field his strongest XI; the defence that faced Real Madrid in the showpiece Paris final has played together once this term.

Mohamed Salah has not had the threat or effectiveness of previous seasons – although he also had a quieter second half to last term, prior to signing a lucrative new contract in the close season.

His colleagues in the front three that was so deadly for Klopp are either rarely getting a run of games – in Roberto Firmino’s case – or have been sold, as Sadio Mane was to Bayern Munich in the summer.

The injured Luis Diaz, so dangerous since signing last January from Porto, is a big miss and £85m summer recruit Darwin Nunez has yet to totally convince.

The industry of the midfield that almost drove the Reds to the historic quadruple suddenly looks laborious and one-paced just a few months later while the younger midfielders – Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – have never consistently impressed at Anfield.

Klopp preferred to play 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic over captain Jordan Henderson, vice-captain James Milner, stalwart Fabinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain against Brighton, just as he had last weekend against Chelsea.

Still, the squad and the manager surely possess enough quality to have won more than just one of their six games so far in 2023.

“You can’t put your finger on one thing, it’s more than that,” added Robertson. “You can tell we’re not as confident in front of goal and in defence we are a wee bit open. We had two clean sheets coming into today but then go and concede two goals.

“We need to get the confidence back, it’s easier said than done, and that’s how we will get results.”

Liverpool need that confidence back quickly as they head into a big month.

In February they face city rivals Everton, Champions League-chasing Newcastle United and holders Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Despite believing there were positives to take from the Brighton game, Klopp accepted his side needs to be better.

“We have to improve, body language, a couple of boys have to do much better,” he said.

“But last game here we couldn’t have won. I think today nobody would have been surprised if we had won the game.”

Prior to the FA Cup tie Klopp defended himself amid Liverpool’s struggles, insisting he has not become a bad manager overnight, but it will take all of his managerial nous to prevent the season after one of the greatest campaigns in the club’s history from being a huge disappointment.