The alarming drop in form of reigning England Premier League (EPL) champions Liverpool is one of the talking points of the moment in football. It can happen to all teams, even the "best" teams, not least our schoolboy sides, so it is informative to take a look-see.
Even on a normal, ho-hum day there is so much being written about Liverpool it is virtually a full-time job (seriously, you will know what I mean if you tried) trying to keep up with all of it, particularly as there are so many divergent but valid viewpoints being bandied about.
So, I’ve tried to cobble together at least some of it, but by no means have I captured it all.
"Anfield, with people and without, is completely different," is how Man City boss Pep Guardiola termed it last month, echoing a sentiment that has been publicly and privately expressed by Liverpool's players. The famous Kop stand at Anfield is a formidable opponent on its own. It could be argued that the Kop bereft of Kopites is akin to a 1- or 2-0 lead for a visiting team.
The 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Fulham at Anfield on Sunday was the team's 6th successive home defeat. No other title-defending EPL team has ever suffered such a large fall-off in points at this stage of the season.
A major factor has been the number of injuries to important personnel, predominantly in key positions, which has seen the club featuring 19 different centre-back combinations during this campaign. Midfielders have been shifted out of their usual slots to fill the void at the back, which in turn has exacerbated the pressure in the more attacking zones of the field.
With the pressure, other cracks are also becoming prominent, including the players' mentality and attitude as well as questions surrounding the decisions made by manager Jurgen Klopp.
The chances of retaining the EPL title are almost gone and even a top-four Champions League berth next season appears to be fading fast for Liverpool, who now lie in 8th place on the log.
The Telegraph's football journalists have delved into the topic with the thoroughness that one has come to expect of this prominent UK news website. Chris Bascombe, for example, reports of the criticism levelled by the club's former player Jamie Carragher, ex-Liverpool captain and manager Graeme Souness, as well as fiery ex-Man United skipper Roy Keane.
Carragher said the club as a whole had not dealt well with adversity, Keane described it as crisis time and Sky pundit Souness called the decline unfathomable and that Liverpool had not shown Fulham the respect they deserved.
“It beggars belief how a team can go from being so good, to [being] so average,” Souness expounded. “People talk about the manager, but Jurgen Klopp has learned a lot about his dressing room. It's about players. Some of them have not stood up to the challenge.”
Klopp has, to his credit, not harped on using the injury situation as a handy scapegoat for the club's plight yet one cannot help but feel for the manager in this respect. On a family level, too, Klopp has suffered much; the death of his mom perhaps even more deeply felt by his being unable to attend her funeral.
If one looks at just a few aspects of the slippery slope Liverpool find themselves on, the numbers are startling:
* 8 home games without a win; on just 1 occasion (the 1951/52 season) have they ever had an even longer winless streak at Anfield
* the 6 home losses equals the same number of consecutive home defeats suffered in the '53/54 season. Four home losses in a row is the next-highest
* 8 defeats in their last 12 EPL games; as many defeats as in their previous 121 EPL matches
* 115 goalshots at Anfield (not including penalties) with zero actual goals to show for it; which leads to a truly remarkable statistic: the longest drought for a home side on record
* Fulham's win on Sunday is the first time since October 2010 (Blackpool on that occasion) that a newly-promoted team has won at Anfield
Given the situation, perhaps the best chance left to retain Champions League football at Anfield will be for Liverpool to win the current competition - and that journey continues today when they take a 2-0 first-leg lead into their meeting with RB Leipzig in Budapest in the round-of-16 return match, both sides intent on earning a berth in the quarter-finals.
Apparently FSG (Fenway Sports Group) the owners of Liverpool still back manager Klopp, the man who as recently as 45 days ago, was closing in on an unbeaten home run spanning 4 years and who as recently as Boxing Day 2020 was at the helm of the EPL log-leaders.
One wonders how Klopp would be feeling if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was his boss. The man who holds the purse strings at Stamford Bridge fired Carlos Ancelotti a year after his Chelsea side had won the Double.
Jose Mourinho was hired, sacked, re-employed and then fired again by the Russian despite not losing a home league match for more than 3 years. And it's not just a Chelsea trait.
Claudio Ranieri was ejected by Leicester City a bare 9 months after piloting them to a storybook English Premier League title.
If one looks at his managerial career, Klopp has found it difficult in previous times of adversity. Of course, that has been the plight faced by many a manager who has tried and failed to stop the rot.
The German was the darling of the Rhineland around 2004 when he engineered Mainz to promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time ever. He was in charge three years later when they were relegated and was further unsuccessful in getting them back to the top-flight of German club football.
At Borussia Dortmund, Klopp took the club to the Champions League final 8 years ago and just 18 months or so later the German side were relegation-threatened in the Bundesliga.
Another source of concern is that it has not so much been the defeats themselves, but the nature of those defeats that have caught the attention of many.
Outplayed is an unequivocal word, but one cannot prevent that adjective entering one’s thought process when applying one’s mind to the manner in which they were (well-) beaten by Burnley and Brighton. Not very long ago, it might be fair to say that the 2 B’s would barely have measured up to once-mighty Liverpool.
What this turnaround in fortunes has clearly shown is that a hiccup or series of hiccups is quickly grasped and exploited by those who appear hungrier on any given day, particularly against a team that is driven by Klopp’s attack-minded philosophy.
Let’s hope the house of cards does not descend from collapsed mode into complete disintegration.
Time will tell.
Images Rex PA AP