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Jurgen Klopp’s seventh-season syndrome

After 19 matches, Liverpool are languishing in the Premier League mid-table, 18 points behind leaders Arsenal, having played a game more. They are also way adrift of Newcastle United, currently holding the fourth Champions League spot.

The season has been underwhelming for the Merseyside club, to put it mildly. Manager Jurgen Klopp seems to have accepted that his team is struggling at the moment and has redrawn his targets.

Hailed as one of the best managers of the current generation, Klopp too has a time cycle of building a team, taking it to the pinnacle and then tapering off – a process that almost every football manager goes through.

Klopp is in the third management job of his career. At every club he has been at, the German has left a legacy. The success achieved by him at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund (the latter haven’t won the Bundesliga since Klopp left in 2015) could not be matched by his successors. However, his time at both clubs came to an end after seven seasons, and Klopp is in his seventh season at Liverpool.

How bad is the Liverpool crisis?

Unlike Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle, Chelsea and Paris Saint Germain, Liverpool is a club run with budget limitations. Owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) are not among the wealthiest owners, hence it becomes imperative for Liverpool to get a Champions League spot every season for maintaining parity with other big clubs by buying quality players.

Given the current predicament of the side on field and the form of other clubs at the top end of the table, it seems highly unlikely that Liverpool will get into the Champions League through a conventional route. The alternative way of doing it is by winning the Champions League. They will be facing Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid in the Round of 16, in a rematch of last season’s Champions League final.

With the FSG looking to sell the club or stakes in it, the side has to finish in the top four for the owners to make profits.

Liverpool’s wage structure has been extremely compact since the FSG take over. With the side in danger of missing out on Champions League football, attracting top players will be extremely difficult without the lure of money or the chance to win top honours.

On-field issues

“Of course, we’re very concerned,” Klopp said after the 3-0 defeat to Brighton. “How can you not be after a game like this?”

Liverpool’s defence in that game was exposed against Brighton’s pace, the side having no answers. Ageing defender Joel Matip and the inexperienced Ibrahim Konate looked stunned.

Klopp plays with a high line of defence, which is always susceptible to quick counters by the opposition when the entire back line is not on the same page.

“The high line is only a risk if we don’t have pressure on the ball. If we have a high line and we don’t have any pressure, yes, then it is a risk – but it’s usually not the case.

“The problem is not the high line. We need the high line to be compact. The problem was we never get close enough to put the opponent under pressure,” Klopp said about the high defensive line after the 4-1 thrashing against Napoli in the Champions League earlier in the season.

Virgil Van Dyk has been the leader of the defence since January 2018. Nonetheless, he has looked completely off-colour this season. After returning from World Cup duty for the Netherlands, he has looked fatigued and got injured in a game against Brentford, ruling him out for a few weeks.

The midfield too has been a reason for this ongoing debacle. Jordan Henderson, Fabinhio and Thiago Alcantara don’t have the legs anymore to execute Klopp’s intense pressing system. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spend more time on the bench than on the field. Summer signing Arthur Melo from Juventus got injured without starting a game.

Youngsters Harvey Elliot and Curtis Jones are too inexperienced to turn this ship around.

Despite the crisis in defence and midfield, the management continues to load the front line with attackers. When the side was in need of midfielders, the owners brought in another winger in Cody Gakpo in the January transfer window.

Liverpool now has seven players for the frontline but not enough in other areas.

Will Klopp be sacked?

Klopp has never been sacked before in his career despite drop-offs in his seventh season. He always left on his own terms. He always had a very good relationship with the owners and fans at his previous clubs and the same is the case at Liverpool too. When the club was in shambles in 2015 at the end of the Brendon Rodgers era, Klopp united the fans and the club again and reignited the belief among fans that Liverpool can win top honours again.

“So as far as I am concerned, unless someone tells me, I will not go,” he said in a recent press conference. There have been no indications from the owners either that there will be a change.

Klopp is contracted till the summer of 2026. He has been one of the most successful managers of Liverpool. He brought the Premier League title after 30 years in the 2019/2020 season and the Champions League in 2018/19.

Last season, the side could have won all the major trophies and become the first men’s side in English football to do a quadruple. However, they fell short of Manchester City by one point in the league and lost to Real Madrid 1-0 in the Champions League final. The Reds won the EFL Cup and FA Cup.

After achieving so much, does Klopp have the energy to build another cycle for Liverpool given the other clubs have rich owners and are investing hugely?

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