Jurgen Klopp’s men have been some way below their best so far this season but hit a new low in Naples on Wednesday night, as they kicked off their Champions League campaign with a 4-1 defeat to Napoli
As Jamie Carragher dissected Liverpool’s horrific display in their 4-1 loss to Napoli on Wednesday night, it was seven words within the middle of his diatribe that stood out: “Is this the end of the cycle?”
Jurgen Klopp’s men haven’t begun the current season looking remotely close to their best – despite the 9-0 hammering of Bournemouth – with injuries and apparent fatigue (both physical and mental) appearing to catch up with them. Right now, they look a pale imitation of the side who pushed Manchester City to the final day of the Premier League season, reached the Champions League final and won both domestic cups last term.
But while they may well have flattered to deceive in draws with Fulham, Crystal Palace and Everton and while they looked flat in defeat at Manchester United, there Champions League opener looked to be something else entirely.
A goal down inside six minutes. Three down at half-time (and fortunate that it wasn’t five given Alisson’s penalty save and Virgil van Dijk clearing one off the line). Four down after 47 minutes. Gifting chances to the Italians to score even more, the defensive line a mess, players appearing to struggle to track runners from midfield and the spaces from front to back and touchline to touchline just too large.
“Until Thiago entered the pitch I can’t remember one counter-pressing situation,” said Klopp. He was, unsurprisingly, far from happy with his side’s display.
Former Liverpool defender Carragher went further however, insisting that this performance was not an isolated incident; the scoreline yes, but the performance, was rather the continuation of a trend, in a game where they were out-run by their opponents both in terms of distance and number of sprints, for the seventh successive game.
“The problem is not that game, forget this game,” Carragher told CBS Sports. “For me the big worry is if this is something that is going to carry on through the season.
“How intense they have been, can this team get it back? That’s the worry for me, what the future of this team is. It’s the performances more than the results.”
Liverpool found themselves 3-0 down at half-time in southern Italy, having conceded two penalties during the opening 45 minutes. Joe Gomez, endured a particularly chastening evening and was withdrawn at the break, replaced by Joel Matip.
But no sooner had Matip arrived on the scene that Liverpool found themselves four down and Carragher tore into Liverpool for their defensive play as he analysed that goal – labelling it “suicide football”.
“It’s embarrassing, it’s kids stuff,” surmised Carragher. “This is the big problem with Liverpool right now, they have built their success on intensity on the ball meaning the opposition can’t get their heads up.
“It means the team is always tight, sometimes at risk but you’re always getting energy on the ball. That energy isn’t there now so that back four has to adapt and it has to go back three or four yards.
But if they keep playing that, they are going to have a big problem in terms of the Premier League and qualifying for the next round of the Champions League because that is suicide football.”
“It looks like we have to reinvent ourselves,” admitted Klopp post-game. If their hopes for the season aren’t to be extinguished before the campaign has even reached its two month mark, they’ll need to do so fast.