LONDON: Liverpool, in theory, can still win the Premier League title. But the optics are all wrong. A new manager is on the way, every word from departing Jurgen Klopp expresses fatigue, his team are playing without belief and now the internal angst is plain for the world to see after Klopp’s touchline bust-up with Mo Salah at the London Stadium.

The pain of the 2-0 defeat at Everton in the Merseyside derby in midweek was eased to some extent by confirmation that Liverpool had reached a deal to import Arne Slot as new boss. He was not the No1 target. That was Xabi Alonso but fans have been reassured by generously positive comments from Klopp. Liverpool have agreed to pay Feyenoord €9m plus a possible further €2m in add-ons.

Next came Saturday’s challenge of a visit to out-of-form West Ham. For any title contender this was a must-win match. Liverpool were duly leading 2:1 through a strike from Andy Robertson and an Alphonse Areola own goal as Klopp prepared a triple change to seal the three points.

In those moments with Salah, Joe Gomez and Darwin Nunez all waiting to come on and perhaps their team-mates distracted, Michail Antonio equalised at 2-2. Klopp walked over to Salah and said something. Salah threw his arms out and fired something back. He was still snapping away when Nunez stepped between them as peacemaker.

Klopp said later: “We spoke about it in the dressing room. For me that’s done.” Not “done” for Salah. He told journalists: “There will be fire if I speak.”

The 31-year-old had a remarkable fitness record before collecting a serious hamstring injury at the Africa Cup of Nations in January. Previously he had missed only 10 Premier League games in seven seasons, two through international commitments. Salah is Liverpool’s top scorer with 17 goals in 29 appearances (25 starts) but since missing almost two months in the first long break of his Anfield career, he has struggled to regain his edge.

The end of the Klopp era, Salah’s failing form and obvious disenchantment with life at Anfield suggest he may well decide the time has come to accept one of the lucrative offers already dangling from Saudi Arabia.

Liverpool’s last three weeks have been disastrous. The League Cup success has been all but forgotten in a run of five league games without a win plus the exit to Atalanta in the Europa League. They have gone 1:0 down in 16 Premier League games and kept only one clean sheet in their last 14 matches.

All in all, it is remarkable that they remain within near-reach of Arsenal and  Manchester City and that a Champions League return next season is almost certain.

Slot knows Klopp’s legacy will be a solid foundation of experience mixed with a clutch of promising youngsters. But the Dutchman will also inherit some awkward problems.

Apart from increasing speculation about Salah’s future, captain Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold will be entering the final year of their contracts. Van Dijk will be 33 in July but to allow Alexander-Arnold to come within a few months of being able to speak to clubs about a free transfer is a major oversight.

The mood music to welcome Slot is not as upbeat as he – and the fans – might have expected. Especially after Saturday.

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