Jurgen Klopp was applauding the effective execution of a bone-rattling James Milner tackle while Liverpool was up 3-2 when his demeanor abruptly changed
Midfielder Fabinho initially remained silent as the boss pointed and yelled at him before responding angrily after another 20 seconds.
This heated argument during the 3-3 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion revealed the root of Liverpool’s ongoing issues this season. Klopp was displeased to once again have to rely on his 36-year-old understudy to show the vigor that was sorely lacking elsewhere.
Fabinho was in the crosshairs, but Klopp’s rage could have been aimed in other directions after seeing more alarming signs of a breakdown in the system that had been running so smoothly for the majority of the previous five years.
How odd that a run of games that have been the antithesis of everything this team has stood for have come before a season that started with a behind-the-scenes look at the Liverpool coaching staff’s work called “Intensity.” It would be appropriate to call a comparable analysis of the first seven Premier League games “Lethargy.”
Klopp, to his credit, doesn’t sugarcoat anything and appears to be as perplexed by the decline as the audience. The words of choice this week were “horrendous” and “awful.”
It was a fitting conclusion for everyone with Anfield sympathies when a spectator said, “What the f**k is going on, lads?” when Alisson Becker was required to make yet another save to stop Danny Welbeck.
Out of possession is the clearest, most noticeable issue. Since Klopp’s Anfield vision began to take shape, Liverpool has been the best team in the world when they don’t have the ball.
Because of Leandro Trossard’s recent hat-trick form, Brighton had the expertise and bravery to punish them for their current vulnerability. Welbeck also ought to have scored a few goals.
It was only natural to concentrate on Liverpool’s back four, where Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk haven’t been in their finest form as the opportunities constantly came and went. After a bad afternoon, Kostas Tsimikas, filling in for Andy Robertson, was appropriately substituted by Milner on the 59th minute.
However, it would be incorrect to hold the defenders solely accountable. Because there is now no protection in front of them, Klopp blamed Fabinho, his anchorman, on Saturday.
The Brazilian, who was so crucial to Liverpool’s turnaround from a squad that came close to winning trophies to one that has won it all since he joined, should still be in the prime of his career at the age of 28.
One was reminded once again of the veterans from the legends game a week earlier by his weekend attempts to track back. He wasn’t the only one.
It was oddly apparent that Roberto De Zerbi’s team was more physically capable of monitoring Brighton’s deep runners due to Liverpool’s midfielders.
The most notable instances of this in Liverpool’s games have been against Napoli, Fulham, and Manchester United. It makes sense why the approaching trip to Arsenal makes me feel so dreadful.
Fabinho, Thiago, and Jordan Henderson, Liverpool’s most dependable midfield trio, succeed while making the pitch smaller and congested before chasing in packs high up the pitch. Given how chaotically open the game on Saturday was, one might have assumed that Anfield had been transformed into Wembley.
Although it wasn’t the original plan for him to play as much when £85 million (€97 million) was spent on Darwin Nunez, Roberto Firmino is in the midst of a goalscoring revival further upfield and Mohamed Salah is as dangerous as ever.
There are issues here as well, though. In comparison to previous season, Liverpool is regaining possession in the final third much less frequently, claims OPTA (14.6 last year compared to 13.3 this season). They are making less tackles all across the field and giving up more opportunities and goals.
Even when the team is attacking, strong on-field alliances have given place to individual, less coordinated patterns, with Luis Diaz, Salah, Thiago, or Alexander-talents Arnold’s providing exciting moments rather than the impression of a cohesive squad.
There doesn’t seem to be a simple solution or quick cure. Clear-the-air sessions and one-on-one debriefings with his stars have both been tried by Klopp. He claims that his sports scientists have not discovered any causes for a physical decline.
It is odd that so many people are fluffing their lines given how effectively the tactical strategy has been practiced. The injured list is also no longer a significant concern.
After Napoli, Klopp stated that Liverpool needed to “re-invent” themselves. The mood seemed to be on point, but Klopp has subsequently reverted, as if it is only a matter of time before everything falls into place now that injured players are back.
Since it is too late in the season for significant personnel changes, the German is placing more faith in regeneration than innovation, which is sensible. But as time passes, Klopp will find it harder to ignore the conclusion that his experienced players are no longer able to play the high-pressing, dynamic 4-3-3 he prefers.
If Liverpool’s season’s first nine games are any indication, things won’t get better before Klopp finds a solution to his team’s (lack of) energy crisis.