Why Jurgen Klopp must take his share of blame for Reds’ decline
Thiago Alcantara has been the oldest signing at 29 when he arrived in the summer of 2020, and after that Diaz at 25.
There were seven players in Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI at Anfield on Tuesday, in that record-breaking defeat by Real Madrid, who had started the final against the same opposition nine months earlier when the margins were so much finer.
After that game in Paris, when the big moments went the way of Carlo Ancelotti’s side and Thibaut Courtois was man of the match, there was little scepticism as Klopp suggested to fans they should book their hotels for Istanbul for June 10, 2023. A fourth Champions League final under Klopp? It certainly felt like a possibility.
Now 5-2 down to Real from the first leg of their last-16 tie, those bookings on the Bosphorus need the mother of all results in the Bernabeu on March 15. The questions being asked are what Klopp might do to rebuild the team who enjoyed such success between 2017 and 2022, and more pertinently for Liverpool’s owner Fenway Sports Group, where does the money comes from to do it?
The club are without a sporting director after Michael Edwards completed his year’s notice last season and his successor, Julian Ward, quit six months later. They have decided against appointing Paul Mitchell, who holds a similar role at Monaco and has worked at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur among others.
It means that for now, the focus is on Klopp and his inner circle. FSG president Mike Gordon has given up his front-line recruitment position and the list of other departures in that area, as well as medical, is significant. A rebuild seems to be on the horizon – though one might argue the club are already advanced in that respect, too.
They have made major signings in the past six windows: Ibrahima Konate in the summer of 2021, Luis Diaz in January of the following year, Darwin Nunez last summer and Cody Gakpo in the most recent window.
Over that period, Thiago Alcantara has been the oldest signing at 29 when he arrived in the summer of 2020, and after that Diaz at 25. The rest have all been 24 or under when they signed: Kostas Tsimikas, Diogo Jota, Nunez, Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay.
The £35 m sale of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich was a fee hard to resist for a player past 30, although not as impressive as the sum Real extracted from Manchester United for Casemiro. That was around £70m for a player at the same age and a gift to the European champions.
One might also factor in the question of Jordan Henderson’s new four-year deal, which was signed on Klopp’s recommendation and is, in the minds of many, in fact the midfield signing so many accuse the club of not having made.
Which begs the question: do Liverpool have a recruitment problem or an injury problem? Klopp has his style of playing and it is nothing like the clinical counter-attacking approach of Real.
It requires a high level of availability and corresponding intensity in his leading players. For whatever reason, there have been too many injuries this season, leading to long absences and then managed returns to the squad, which have thwarted that familiar Kloppian swarming, high-press style.
Both Konate and Diaz were missing against Real and have not played since January 29 and October 9 respectively. Konate has played just 10 games all season.
Thiago might return in time for the second leg in Madrid but will still be working his way back from a hip problem. Gakpo arrived in January partly as a reaction to the continued absence of Diaz. Jota, a late sub against Real, has not started a game since October 16 when he suffered the second of his injuries of this campaign – the first of which was in pre-season.
There have been others: Roberto Firmino is just three substitute performances into his injury comeback. The likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip have also been out for critical periods. All teams have to cope with injuries, of course, but Liverpool’s have proved to be overwhelming at times.
FSG will rightly be judged on whether it can repeat the great transfer coups – or the bets on a return on a big fee – that led to the likes of Mo Salah, Mane, Alisson and Van Dijk being recruited. They will be under pressure to attract the investment in a stake of the club that will permit them to do that.
The question of whether Liverpool can sign Jude Bellingham becomes ever more fundamental. FSG might also ask whether it is getting value from the players already signed when so many are missing with injury.
The same challenges will face Real one day, when it comes to replacing the likes of Luka Modric, 37, and Karim Benzema, 35.
For Klopp, the successes have sharpened the appetite among fans for more. That is the burden of every leading manager. He has proven a collegiate figure for FSG in good times and bad and Tuesday was no different.
Blame was not spread around, the mood was calm, and the proposed solutions were entirely reasonable. None of them, however, are easy.
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