LONDON: Liverpool’s third successive defeat and fifth in 10 league games is starting to raise concern that the Premier League champions are suffering a burn-out comparable with manager Jurgen Klopp’s last days at Borussia Dortmund.
The next few weeks and months will define Klopp’s future at Anfield. He arrived in October 2015 and has a contract taking him through to 2024. In this time he will have to build a new team while continuing to win trophies. The pressure now is far greater than when he arrived because the Premier League success raised expectations among the owners and the fans.
Liverpool love Klopp as much as he loves the club. But love in football is conditional upon winning football matches. Liverpool’s crisis of confidence is exacerbated by the absence of passionate support from their fans in the Kop. For this reason and all the faults evident on Saturday at Leicester, they are not favourites against Leipzig.
Klopp’s Gegenpressing style demands an enormous 90-minute commitment from his players but Liverpool, in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Leicester, looked tired both physically and mentally. They took a 67th-minute through Mo Salah but were quickly over-turned by the Foxes’ three goals in nine minutes from James Maddison, Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes.
Leicester displayed all the eager aggression and confidence which Liverpool lacked in Klopp’s 300th game. It could have been worse. Vardy could have scored twice in the first half as newcomer Ozan Kabak struggled on his debut alongside Jordan Henderson in Liverpool’s 16th difference central defensive partnership of the campaign.
Kabak was also partly to blame for the second Leicester goal when a lack of communication with out-rushing keeper Alisson saw the two men collide and give Vardy a simple run in on goal. As Klopp said: “That was a situation when somebody should shout.” Responsibility lay less with Kabak and more with Alisson who thus compounded his two costly blunders the previous weekend against Manchester City.
Maddison had a simple explanation for Leicester’s victory. He said: “We went to a diamond in the second half to overload them in midfield and, also, Liverpool are more vulnerable now on the counter attack.”
Liverpool were perfectly set up for Leicester’s pace on the transition. They play a high line at the back but that depends on a strong press in midfield and Thiago Alcantara, Ginio Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones were too far off the pace. Thiago, who substituted James Milner after 17 minutes, looked lost.
Klopp has endured a difficult enough week personally, following the death of his mother and his inability to fly home, without so much trouble at work.
Liverpool were five points clear at the top after beating Crystal Palace 7:0 on December 19. They finished this game knowing that if Manchester City won games in hand, they would be 16 points behind. It was the first time they have lost three league games in a row since November 2014.
Klopp said: “We dominated Leicester, we scored a great goal but then conceded a strange one, which should have been offside. But it had too big an impact. There was still time to go. We have to show a different reaction. When we conceded the second, in that manner, it was a knock and I didn’t like the reaction after that.”
Asked whether he had conceded the title, Klopp paused before replying “I cannot believe, but yes. I don’t think we can close the gap.”