Having been on Top of the Premier League Table during the early parts of this Season until Christmas 2020; the Title Defence from the reigning English Champions Liverpool Fc unfortunately completely fell apart after January 2021.
Barring any unforeseen collapse, Manchester City Fc looks all set to reclaim the Premier League Crown especially after thumping the hosts Liverpool Fc (The Reds) during February 2021.
After 30 long years and smashing several records along the way; the Reds won the Premier League 2019-20 Title in a canter.
However; the complications caused due to COVID-19 Pandemic, made it highly unlikely for the Reds to maintain those remarkable standards that they set over the last few Seasons.
The Reds armoury began to show cracks and these cracks were brutally exposed by the Opponents this Season.
Still, that does not fully explain why the Reds could not to mount a proper defence of their English Crown.
There are no clear-cut explanations, however some of the obvious ones could be:
- Being forced to cope with the potential long-term injury loss of Virgil Van Dijk: Perhaps the biggest reason but the impact of the influential Centre Back on the Club is immeasurable.
As the Bedrock of the Reds Defence; the Dutchman brought calmness and solidity in the defence that was once porous as well as provide the diagonal passes that unlocked Defensive Minded sides.
The Dutchman also scored the odd Goals that helped the Reds to pick up crucial narrow wins especially when the Forwards were not scoring.
After getting injured during the Everton Fc away clash, Van Dijk had been sidelined and successfully undergone a surgery on his injured knee. Despite stepping up his rehabilitation, Van Dijk looks unlikely to return this Season.
Van Dijk’s injury has been a hammer blow to the Reds ambitions to secure back-to-back Premier League Titles. Undoubtedly in his absence, the Reds conceded far more Goals than when the Dutchman was present.
The Dutchman’s injury also impacted the Reds attacking style of play as they became a team that defended much deeper.
The Reds defended much higher up the pitch with Van Dijk in the Team thanks to his pace and impeccable reading of the game, which also helped the Reds to attack more confidently.
This also helped the Reds to force the Opponents to retreat back to their territory as the Reds intensified the attacking pressure, thereby leading to more opportunities to score Goals.
(On the contrary) In the absence of Van Dijk, the Reds Defenders looked to retreat further behind thereby giving the Opponents adequate space and sufficient time to clear the danger.
The Club’s revenues were greatly hampered by the effects of COVID-19. As such, the Reds Transfer Committee were forced to work with a Limited Transfer Budget both during the Summer Transfer Window 2020 and Winter Transfer Window 2021.
Regardless, the Club’s reluctance to sign a suitable replacement Centre Back (after the departure of Dejan Lovren) before the Season began can be considered as suicidal and a massive oversight from the Transfer Committee.
As if the loss of Van Dijk was not bad enough; the Reds at one point had to deal with the untimely injuries to Thiago Alcântara, Fabinho, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain even before the November International Break 2020.
The Reds curse of injuries this Season continued as the Club had to deal with injuries to several Key Players on a regular basis which itself is beyond unprecedented and never happened to other Teams at this scale.
- The absence of in form Diogo Jota due to knee injury: Since joining the Reds during the Summer Transfer Window 2020, the young Portuguese International was in rich vein of form scoring Goals regularly until he sustained a knee injury during the FC Midtjylland away encounter.
His Goal scoring prowess helped the young Portuguese to move ahead of Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino in the pecking order to the point that the untouchable spot of Roberto Firmino in the side had also became in jeopardy.
Jota’s contributions gave another attacking option for the Reds along with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.
Yet, Firmino’s contributions to the side is unquestionable and Jürgen Klopp still highly values the Brazilian as an integral part of the Team.
The Brazilian is known for his unselfish play along with work rate helps to create opportunities for Salah and Mané.
However, as seen during this Season; when the team was not scoring, Firmino’s lack of Goals became a worrying issue.
After Jota got sidelined, the Reds forwards clearly struggled to score Goals regularly for most part of this Seasons (especially Firmino).
- Lack of Goal Scoring Opportunities created from the Midfield: Despite the plethora of Midfield Options that Klopp can rely upon; the Midfielders contributions this Season were subpar for most parts this Season, managing very little assists and scoring hardly any Goals.
Part of the problem was the lack of a Senior Centre Backs (until the Reds addressed by signing Ben Davis and Ozan Kabak during the Winter Transfer Window 2021). Van Dijk and Joe Gomez were sidelined for an indeterminate period due to knee injuries.
With Joël Matip frequently getting injured during this Season, Fabinho played as a Makeshift Centre Back for the majority of this Season.
Captain Jordan Henderson also played as a Makeshift Centre Back, thus leaving the shaky defence exposed (without the usual protection from Henderson and Fabinho).
Without Henderson’s presence in the Midfield, the Forwards cannot get quality Goal Scoring Assists from the skipper or even help them win back the ball.
Thiago Alcântara was signed during the Summer Transfer Window 2020 as means to provide as Plan B for the Reds especially against Defensive Minded sides.
The Spaniard is renowned particularly for creating razor sharp passes that can cut open the Teams that looked to defend deep in numbers and be the creative outlet for the side.
But the Spaniard’s untimely absence as result of getting injured (during the Everton Fc away fixture) further complicated matters for the Reds.
Also after returning from his injury, the Spaniard needed time to get accustomed to Klopp’s tactics and as such, did not make the desired impact as expected.
With very few Goal scoring opportunities created from the Midfield, the Reds big threat generally had to come from the flanks from Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Even Alexander-Arnold performance was below par especially during the Reds horror run of poor results in January 2021.
With very little creativity from the Midfield, it was not surprising that Goal scoring opportunities quickly dried up for the Forwards.
Persistently playing inexperienced youngsters like Curtis Jones and Makeshift Defenders created a massive imbalance in the side which thereby disrupted their usual attacking style of Football.
- The absence of the Reds Twelfth Man: This is clearly understated but the presence of the Reds Twelfth Man – The Reds Supporters and the energy provided by them were sorely missed by the Players.
Like all the previous Reds Teams, the current Reds Players too fed off the buzz and the Supporters responded by upping the ante, thereby causing a virtuous circle.
Besides being the Team’s much needed psychologically boost; the Atmosphere generated by the Reds Supporters especially during the European Night is beyond mystical.
The raucous and intimidating noise generated by the Crowd, even subdued the Opponents to their imminent defeat even before the ball was kicked.
But restrictions were been placed on the number of people by the British Government as means to curb the COVID-19 Pandemic.
As such, the Club’s performance has been affected to the point that one can compare a Body functioning without a Soul.
- The Physical and Mental Toll on the Core Players: The high Octane Heavy Metal Football (Gegen-Pressing Tactics) introduced by Klopp propelled the Reds to win Champions League 2018-19 Title, UEFA Super Cup 2019, Club World Cup 2019 and Premier League 2019-20 Title.
After two-and-a-half Seasons of consistent high performance; the intensity of Klopp’s tactics eventually had its heavy toll both mentally and physically on the Core Players.
As such, it is always going to be hard to defend the Premier League Title after last Season’s success that ended the Club’s long wait for a Top Flight Title after 3 Decades.
Playing without energy, fight and aggression; the current Reds Team are clearly a shadow of their former selves from the last 2 Seasons.
Being always on the front foot, constantly playing aggressively with high tempo and at the same time, maintaining their defensive shape were some of the hallmarks of the Reds from the last 2 Seasons.
COVID-19 further exacerbated the ongoing campaign making the Season all the weirder. This consequently led to a tightly crammed Schedule to navigate and such a schedule offers very little respite for the Players.
Verdict: Despite the Reds rise to pinnacle of World Football, their evolution to stay ahead of the game however was minimal in comparison to their Rivals.
More often this Season; the Opponents adopted defensive minded approach to negate the Reds attackers by defending deep in numbers and score Goals on the counter.
To add insult to injury; some of these Teams were even content to concede the possession to the Reds. (In this day and age) With advanced sophisticated technologies at their disposal; most Teams are now familiar with how Mané and Salah operates.
The Opponents are aware of the Reds lack creativity in the Midfield and Van Dijk’s injury has made the Reds Defence porous once again. Whenever possible, the Opponents are consciously doing their best to negate the attacking threat from the Reds Full Backs.
To be more unpredictable and to avoid being outfoxed, Klopp to some extent has switched from his usual 4-3-3 Formation to 4-2-3-1 Formation. But, more often than not Klopp reverted to the predictable 4-3-3 Formation much to the delight of the Opponents.
With the Premier League Title most likely heading back to Manchester City Fc, the Reds needs to focus their attention on securing their Champions League Spot for the next Season.