The problem wasn’t the poor defending, the team’s collectively from midfield through to a shaky backline, or even individually, with Dejan Lovren the key calamitous culprit and the man most singularly responsible for Liverpool’s early deficit. The problem wasn’t the lack of substitutions later on, either.
Long before the fans began to grumble about a lack of changes, and long before the time Daniel Sturridge and then Marko Grujic were introduced, it was clear a few changes weren’t going to change anything. When they finally did arrive, if anything, they managed to make Liverpool look less coherent.
Though of course, by that time, it may have simply been that the players had begun to give up on getting any kind of a result in what has to be recorded as the worst game of the 2017-18 season so far and possibly the worst of Jürgen Klopp’s two-and-a-half years spent at the English club.
That’s how bad it was. And nothing that happened yesterday to cause it or contribute to it was anything more than a symptom, a symptom of last summer’s failures in the transfer market, when the club knew they were three key signings from challenging for their first title of the Premier League era and made just one.
Needing a starting calibre winger, midfielder, and centre half—top four-calibre; title challenging-calibre—the club in the end only signed one. The winger, Mohamed Salah. To his, Klopp, and the club’s credit he has been exceptional since arriving at the club, with nine goals and three assists already.
Yet even as his play inspires, it serves as a reminder of those misses. The club desperately needed a player who could make a similar impact in midfield and one in defence, and fans were promised that, this time, those players would be signed. They were told that this time, Liverpool were taking the next step.
To that end, the club even went to the effort of holding on to Philippe Coutinho in the face of exceptional pressure from the player and Barcelona. In retrospect, they might as well not have even bothered. What was the point, after all, if they’re likely now to at best finish in the Europa League places?
What was the point if next season it’s back to square one yet again, another push for the top four and being in the place they were last summer where they could attract the sort of players they’d need to push on, to take the next step? Today, it’s hard to figure out why, really, they didn’t just sell.
Because in the Premier League, you can’t just wait a year, treading water and waiting for the perfect pieces to fall into place. In an uber-competitive fight for the top four between six sides—along with at least a handful of others capable of crashing the party—you can’t just ignore your shortcomings until next year.
In Germany, say, or in Spain, if you’re one of the top two or three clubs, you’ve got wiggle room. As good as the leagues are, there is some leeway to sit back and wait for a season as a top side—to take a runners-up finish knowing that it gives you a better shot next time around when you get your first choice targets in.
Taking that approach—relying for one more season on Dejan Lovren at centre half and a midfield collective that trends towards the agrarian and delaying those necessary signings until next summer—in England’s six-sided battle for the top four is a far more risky approach. For proof, well, here’s floundering Liverpool.
Missing those signings hasn’t just delayed glory until next year, it’s likely to have wasted the season given a quarter of the way through it they stand sixth favourite to get back into the top four and could find themselves back out of Europe entirely. And the sad part of it is just how predictable it’s been.
The mistakes have come from the places everyone knew they would come from; the problems have been worst where everyone knew there were problems. Everything that went wrong about Liverpool against Tottenham on Sunday, at its root, can be traced back to failures of recruitment over the summer.
And, over the summer, everyone—the club included—knew those problems needed to be addressed. That they weren’t makes it impossible to ignore that a central theme of Klopp’s tenure at the club has been allowing perfect recruitment to be the enemy of the good, too often leaving the club thin at key positions.
In his first two years in charge, Liverpool still managed to find a measure of success despite their largely self-inflicted shortcomings—problems of depth made necessary only by the manager’s at times too stubborn approach to transfers. In year three, it’s set to lead to a wasted season. Another wasted season.
Jürgen Klopp has shown in the past that he’s a world class manager, and it’s hard to see who Liverpool could turn to who would improve their lot, but this mess they’re in isn’t on Dejan Lovren or a midfield that trends towards agrarian or an attack that sometimes misfires. And it’s not on the owners, who made funds available.
This mess, and another wasted season following a summer when fans were promised that Liverpool intended to get themselves back on their perch, is on Klopp. He made the mess the club are currently in, and it’s going to be on him to find a way to fix it, to salvage something from it, in the coming months.