It has been, to say the least, a disappointing campaign for Jurgen Klopp’s reds. Having been top at Christmas in spite of some patchy form, any hope of a title defence evaporated after the turn of the year as Liverpool slid to sixth.
The only consolation for us is that football has been rancid as a whole this season; empty stadiums, incompetent officiating and avaricious ideas like the Super League threatening to tear at the very fabric of the game itself have sapped pretty much all the joy out of the sport we love. Liverpool’s shortcomings, as well as their rivals’ successes, have meanwhile fallen under the radar.
But, surely, this mentality of accepting mediocrity just because the game itself is mediocre cannot continue. And so this begs the question: Is this simply a blip season for the Reds, or has this current side truly run its course at the top level?
It seems that too many of Liverpool’s key men have been underperforming for too long for it to be an issue of form. Roberto Firmino, whilst never having been prolific in front of goal, is now contributing notably less elsewhere on the pitch. His signature press has departed his game and even simple link-up play seems a big ask nowadays.
Sadio Mane’s decline has lacked the magnitude of Firmino’s, but has been far more expeditious. Up until about Christmas, Mane had been producing the kind of performances that have earned him legendary status at Anfield. Unfortunately, his form has since nosedived, with his profligacy contributing more than its fair share toward Liverpool’s lacklustre campaign. Firmino has only scored six goals in all competitions, whilst Mane is yet to hit double figures in the Premier League.
Similar tales can be told of Alisson’s, Robertson’s and Gini Wijnaldum’s individual seasons. To categorically label it a collective decline would be portentous; fatigue, psychological factors and sheer misfortune have all done their part.
Yet, it seems impossible to imagine the likes of Firmino, Mane and Wijnaldum returning to their 2017-2019 levels. Plenty of this squad is approaching, if not past, that dreaded 30 mark; their best years are behind them, as difficult as it may be to accept. This current batch may have led us to some of our greatest successes in decades, but there is no pace for sentiment in football. If Klopp and co. want to ensure that this has been an off-season rather than the end of a very short era, some ruthlessness is warranted.
There have been whispers of RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate already being a done deal, but that cannot be the whole of Liverpool’s summer transfer business. There has to be some replenishment in the midfield, with Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum both already on the wrong side of 30.
But more than anything, a clinical forward has to be first on the agenda. On too many occasions this season, the wastefulness of Liverpool’s front line has cost the team precious points. If we cannot procure a marquee signature, say Erling Haaland for instance, the scouting team will have to be called upon to pull the same strings they did in ‘unearthing’ Mane, Salah and Jota. Of course, this may well mean that Mane or Firmino makes way, in addition to the likely departures of Wijnaldum, Milner and Matip.
But if Reds fans do not want to say goodbye to title challenges and European football, then it may be time to say goodbye to some of the faces we have come to love and adore.