New Liverpool debate rages after FA Cup exit leaves dismal season at point of no return
BIG DEBATE: Liverpool are 10 points off the Premier League top four, have been knocked out of both domestic cups in the fourth round and only have a Champions League clash with Real Madrid to look forward to
Liverpool missed out of the Premier League title by a point, won the FA Cup and Carabao Cup and reached the final of the Champions League.
Fast forward a little over seven months from that defeat to Real Madrid in Paris and Jurgen Klopp’s side are enduring a hellish season. They are ninth in the Premier League and were knocked out of both domestic in the fourth round – with a round of 16 clash with Real in the Champions League their only realistic thing to play for now.
So we asked Mirror Football’s reporters: Out of both domestic cups and 10 points off the top four, what have Liverpool got to do to rescue their season?
This is how they replied…
Liverpool’s mediocrity in the 2022/23 campaign has been the product of a poisonous cocktail of injuries to key players, startling drop-offs in individual form and a psychological hangover from a dramatic and disappointing finale to last season.
Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz have been missed while the contributions of players such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Thiago and Jordan Henderson – to name four amongst many – have been sketchy, to say the least.
Fabinho’s form, for example, has simply fallen off a cliff. But salvation could come in the Champions League where Real Madrid provide the first knockout hurdle.
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So how does Jurgen Klopp galvanise his team? Guarantee Darwin Nunez a place in the line-up, for a start. He might be struggling to settle a little but he is still a major threat. Give him a run and confidence.
But, quite frankly, Liverpool need more quality in midfield and are not going to get it in this transfer window.
And Klopp can only cling to the prospect of a tie with Real Madrid inspiring his established stars and the return of one or two key players. Realistically, though, his thoughts must already be turning to some sort of summer overhaul.
To put things into context a little, losing to Brighton in the FA Cup was way down the list of self-inflicted injuries this season. They have bigger problems, more pressing concerns than a domestic cup run.
They are not the Premier League’s richest club, they need the income from the Champions League. Desperately. So a top four finish is not only the priority, it is the only true aim of this season, with even the pursuit of European glory a distant second in their thoughts.
That looks a long way off now, but they were in a worse position two seasons ago, when even Jurgen Klopp had conceded defeat in the race for a top four finish. But things need to change swiftly.
How? Well, getting players back will help, a lot. Klopp said van Dijk, Jota and Firmino will all be playing again in the next fortnight.
But they need to sort out their forward line too. Darwin Nunez is still a work in progress, as is the transistion from playing with a false 9 the past five years, to an orthodox centre forward this season.
They have struggled to implement the new system, so maybe Klopp will have to go back to the old ways, with Firmino coming back into the middle, and Nunez perhaps playing wide on the left, until Luis Diaz is back.
He also needs more consistency in midfield. Stefan Bajcetic has been a find, but Klopp needs Henderson and Fabinho to step up. Things look bad, things were worse two years ago, and they finished third, so it is not quite the crisis people are suggesting just yet.
It is hard to believe what has happened to Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp is a genius, remains a genius and undoubtedly has the ability to restore Liverpool to greatness rather than mid-table mediocrity.
Klopp’s energy has always been one of his best selling points, whether that’s attracting players, convincing players or getting the best from his team.
At the moment, Liverpool look tired. The last few seasons have taken its toll and Klopp has spoken about just how much going toe-to-toe with Manchester City has taken out of him personally.
They somehow have to get their mojo back but also a direction and an identity. When Liverpool were at their best it was 4-3-3, a set first choice starting XI and a direction.
If they did lose a big player, it would be a tweak and someone would come in. The one area which was changed was midfield but they did arguably have a first choice three of Wijnaldum, Henderson and Fabinho.
Midfield is the biggest issue. They wanted Tchouaméni last summer, but couldn’t get him and if they were in the top four at the end of the season then they might have got Bellingham. That looks a long shot now, in my opinion.
But they now have to settle on a pattern, a settled team and formation to get them into a routine and rhythm. Yes, they have injuries – van Dijk most notable – but they need to get some consistency and form.
That means backing Nunez and picking him each week. Use Henderson. If you rate Gakpo, pick him each week. Get back to a regular team – and that will help them restore the confidence and belief to restore their season.
To rescue this season? If we’re judging it against the relentless seasons from the recent past then it has already long gone, but there is plenty Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool can do to ensure that what happens between now and May is instructive for what needs to come next.
That Klopp would need to rebuild his Liverpool side was obvious from the moment he signed his contract extension in April last year but, no doubt distracted by last season’s mammoth attempt at winning everything, nowhere near enough steps have been taken to seamlessly and smoothly transition his ageing side into a younger model.
Some have, with the likes of Ibrahima Konate, Darwin Nunez, the enormously missed Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota and the emerging Stefan Bajcetic all staking their claims, but to do what Klopp now needs to do – which remains a very rare task in the game, and one also confronting Pep Guardiola albeit from a kinder starting point – requires time, patience and in the current climate, large scale investment.
Get all of those and his new Liverpool could be onto something in the not-too-distant future, even if reaching their previous exceptional highs might be too lofty a target.
The season they won the Premier League Liverpool won 26 of their first 27 league games, but the current side looks more like the 2015-16 version, the campaign when Klopp arrived in the October and began to build. They were knocked out of the FA Cup at the fourth round stage too, and to a last minute goal. But they learned.
Everything that happens in the remainder of this campaign, be it a tactical tweak or a selection decision, has to be with next season and beyond in mind.
It’s difficult to put a finger on what exactly Liverpool can do to address their slump when their confidence looks shot to pieces – but Jurgen Klopp could do worse than go back to his tried and tested.
Injuries have proved problematic this season, but Klopp still has a world class team at his disposal if he sticks with the players who almost won the quadruple last year – experience will be crucial.
Jordan Henderson is Liverpool’s leader and needs to be at the heart of their midfield, along with Thiago’s quality and, dare I say it on current form, Fabinho. For all their struggles this campaign, they are still the Reds’ best choice trio and have not become bad players overnight.
Klopp should stop meddling with his system and revert to a 4-3-3 until the summer when he has more time to work on a new approach. Until he can welcome back any of his injured attackers, go with a front three of Gakpo-Nunez-Salah but with a greater emphasis on pressing the opposition as a priority – that’s when Liverpool have been at their best.
Across the park the work rate needs to be better, but starting with keeping things compact, pressing in unison and trying to grind out victories – however they come – could give them a fighting chance of making the top four.
Last year Jurgen Klopp signed a new contract through to the summer of 2026 and he now must apply long-term thinking to his long-term commitment.
Liverpool face a mammoth task to secure a top four spot or lift a major trophy this season but with four months of football still to be played, this cannot be viewed as a total write-off.
Klopp has insisted he is not “too loyal” to his players but there is a clear and pressing need for big changes in his side. The integration of Stefan Bajcetic has seen an improvement in midfield energy and shape but more experimentation is required.
Half-a-dozen players must be moved on this year if the Reds are to undergo the squad reset that is blatantly required and Klopp must now select his teams with this in mind.
This is now the time for thinking about the future, giving minutes to promising teenagers, finding the best role for Cody Gakpo and assessing what players have what it takes to continue at the very top level.
A late top four surge or Champions League run cannot be discounted but Liverpool have got to get back to basics before even considering either possibility and any chances Klopp makes must be capable of lasting beyond this campaign.
We are only just over halfway through the season, yet the feeling that Liverpool are limping on towards the end campaign’s end point is already inescapable.
It is obvious that the Reds need to undergo a squad overhaul in the summer. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, James Milner and Arthur Melo set to leave the club upon the expiry of their contracts, a reset can take place. The signing of Jude Bellingham would be ideal, but the allure of joining Liverpool is fading by the game.
Jurgen Klopp’s big names – Mohamed Salah, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson – are simply not performing at the moment, while others are unable to due to injury. He needs to trust in youth. Led by Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho and Stefan Bajcetic, he has a decent collection of young stars. They need to be handed more responsibility to dig Liverpool out of the hole they are in.
Ruthless decisions will need to be made in the summer, so why not start now? Drop the highly-paid under-performing names and start handing more opportunities to the stars of the future. They might just kick-start the campaign.
When you saw the score come in from the Amex Stadium on Sunday, hardly anyone was surprised.
There used to be only one outcome when Liverpool played Brighton, but times have changed and Jurgen Klopp’s side are in a mini-disaster period having slumped out of the FA Cup with a 2-1 defeat at the Seagulls.
That was the fourth time in a row that Liverpool have failed to beat Brighton and that kind of statistic shows the trajectory in which the two clubs are on. And the Reds are the team on a declining path and need to improve quickly.
Liverpool’s season is in danger of petering out and they need to sort out their form, and fast. But how do they change it?
One possible way is to start Darwin Nunez every week. The Uruguayan is a little rash with his finishing but looks like creating a chance for himself or a teammate every time he goes forward.
The Reds have scored just twice in four matches and need some spark at the top end of the pitch and Nunez must be in the XI to help change that. Cody Gakpo has struggled for form since moving from PSV and may need to be bedded in from the bench to get used to their style, with Harvey Elliott and Mohamed Salah on the wings.
Their defensive record has improved in recent weeks and that isn’t as much of a worry, but Klopp needs to get the balance right if they are to still gain success this season. I don’t see them getting into the top four now, but if they can progress far in the Champions League and reach the final, like three of the last five years, I think it will go down as another successful campaign.
After a second cup elimination, Liverpool might be at the stage where they can take pride in results or performances but not both. Scraping enough results to mount a top four push or challenge for European glory would be welcome, as would the sight of green shoots of recovery from the current squad, but it feels ambitious to expect the world after what we have seen so far this season.
It looks as though the squad will be in need of a big summer refresh, with the players brought in ahead of the 2022-23 season failing to mask bigger issues. One target this season could be getting the best out of Darwin Nunez, who has already shown glimmers, and a run of games with the Uruguayan flanked by Mohamed Salah and Cody Gakpo can at least show the fans what things are supposed to look like when all goes to plan.
Beyond that, if we are to consider this a transition year then there’s plenty to be said for bringing through youth. Stefan Bajcetic has already made his case for more league minutes, while there might be a case for using Ben Doak a little more while more senior stars struggle.
It was always going to be tough to retain the optimism of last season’s quadruple charge, though the level of drop-off has been a shock. Accepting that drop-off and building for the next version of Liverpool Football Club could be the move, as painful as that seems.