There’s a difference between losing and being at a loss. Losing is defeat, but being at a loss is not knowing what to say or do.
Liverpool exhibited dire symptoms of the latter on Sunday evening, as they squandered another three points at home to relegation-threatened Fulham to mark their sixth defeat in a row.
The Reds’ lack of conviction and clarity on the pitch cost them dearly. Their inability to make quick-fire decisions as a team, particularly in the frazzled final moments of the match, was baffling to watch. To put it simply: they choked. And there’s no room for that sort of hesitation — even the fraction-of-a-minute kind — in a game as unforgiving as football.
It’s inconceivable, really, that the reigning league champions are conceding to a team that may not even make the cut next season. But we suppose that’s one thing Liverpool and viewers at home will have had in common. They’re at a loss, too.
Everyone will be well aware of Liverpool’s troubles this season — specifically the onslaught of injuries that made Jurgen Klopp’s starting line-up more precarious than ever. There was a sense of frenzy to Klopp’s decision-making ahead of the match against Fulham as he made a total of seven changes from the squad he played against Chelsea the week before, and excluded big-hitters such as Sadio Mane, Thiago Alcantara and Trent Alexander-Arnold. (Currently, players such as Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino are all injured and out of commission.)
The team felt brand new — and they played like they were brand new, too: out of sync, flustered and awkwardly trying to find a rhythm.
The turning point for the Reds was no doubt losing Virgil Van Dijk to a season-ending ACL rupture in October, after which more injuries piled up. It was expected that the Reds’ confidence and performances would suffer for several fixtures after repeated blows to their structure, but it’s slightly disillusioning to see that the defending champions — who won the world over with their grit and passion last season, proving that the tide can truly change after a 30-year drought — are still failing to recover and adjust this far out into the season.
Alisson Becker, back in the net this week, is still grieving the recent loss of his father, and as Klopp said in a recent emotional ode to the goal keeper in Liverpool's programme notes, he should be given time and space that he needs.
As for the rest of the squad this week, however, physical injuries are one thing, while their fractured mentality is another.
Mo Salah was once the answer to most of the Reds’ problems — now he’s a question mark instead. The prized goal-scorer is, in many ways, unrecognisable from the player who won the Golden Boot two years in a row not long ago (2018 and 2019). Against Chelsea on Friday, Klopp took the Egyptian off at the 62nd minute.
According to a field reporter who witnessed the commotion, Klopp had allegedly been screaming to Salah to track back, but the forward insisted on jogging. After the surprise substitution, Salah’s agent posted a cryptic tweet comprising of nothing but a full stop. One can’t help but wonder if it’s symbolic of Salah’s time at Liverpool coming to a close.
Despite Klopp denying any real trouble, smoke is a fairly good indication of fire, and rumour has it Salah is ready to move onto another club — possibly Real Madrid or Barcelona. But that hardly seems like a noble excuse not to fight tooth and nail until the finish line.
At the end of the day, however, a team either wins together or loses together. No one player can make or break a team. That’s a struggle that will be weighing on everyone’s shoulders going into the final few weeks of the EPL.
On Sunday, while Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was in Glasgow basking in the glow of winning his first league title as a manager, the ever-dedicated Klopp was watching his team of six years continue to disintegrate at Anfield.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that Klopp’s days at Liverpool could be numbered. Managerial posts are delicate and unpredictable. And even though the German boss has become integral to Liverpool’s identity, more of a teammate than a distant boss, there’s only so much he can do to stop the final whistle from being blown on his time at Liverpool, should the team fail to break their losing streak.
Chatter, of course, is inevitable. With Gerrard proving his capability at the Scottish Premiership, getting Rangers FC the title within two years of joining at the helm, he’s already being discussed as a suitable replacement for Klopp.
But, it’s hard to say if hitting the reset button would be the bucket of ice cold water that the Reds need to re-energise their focus. Only one thing is for certain — sooner or later, something’s gotta give.