RABBIL SIKDAR looks back at what was a promising season for the Reds — two cup finals, which ended in bitter disappointment, zero trophies
A bad 14 seconds was all it took for Liverpool’s season to unravel. Unable to protect a lead in the Europa League final, they crumpled, implodeing under the weight of pressure and lost a route to the Champions League.
A season of potential glory with the bonus of playing in Europe’s top cup competition ended in failure and nothing next season.
As Sevilla celebrated a third successive Europa League success, Liverpool were pondering, left to reflect on what might have been. For Klopp, the agony and frustration was apparent. He spoke of the anger that they felt after the pain of Wembley in the League Cup final. Then, it had fired Liverpool’s season. Now he needs to find that anger again.
It’s hard to paint a genuine reflection of Liverpool’s season because the statistics don’t convey the sensations and the feelings cannot hide the facts: Liverpool were poor in the league, awfully inconsistent, astonishingly vulnerable at the back and still troubled by a lack of defence-splitting creativity from the midfield that they previously had with the Steven Gerrard-Xabi Alonso axis.
Two defeats in cup finals read as a failure yet at the same time can be written off as successes purely for the fact that Liverpool generally played well in most of the cup games.
The league saw a Reds side who could beat the best in England only then to lose to likes of Watford, throwing away leads on numerous times.
A top four assault was out of reach simply because Liverpool couldn’t hold on to leads, even when the win seemed so secure.
The defensive weaknesses have made the team easy to get at, and often. By the end though, when they barely won a game, it was more down to the focus shifting from the league to Europe, where they blew away teams using the factor of Anfield.
Most Liverpool fans would say that the team are in a healthier position than when Brendan Rodgers left. Klopp has a name that carries appeal. Rodgers, with greatest respect to the man who was so close to a title, does not.
Would Liverpool have been linked with likes of Mario Goetze and Gonzalo Higuain without Klopp? Would they have beaten Borussia Dortmund in the manner they did without Klopp creating that symbiotic bond between the players and fans, a powerful communion that has toppled countless teams in Europe?
But at the same time ask anyone and there will be disbelief that in a season in which Chelsea and Manchester United dropped out of the top four and, Man City suffering from a gradual implosion, Liverpool still could not benefit from this.
The fact that Leicester and Tottenham mostly led the way will be galling. The lack of consistency has conditioned the lack of serious hope.
Hope comes in the way they outclassed City in both league encounters; a 4-1 win at Eastlands matched by a 3-0 win at Anfield. They drew twice with Arsenal but arguably could have won both. Against United at Old Trafford, they played timidly and lost but that was a Rodgers’s side.
Klopp’s side lost the return fixture in a game they shouldn’t have lost — but found revenge in the Europa League. And this is what makes Liverpool’s inconsistency so frustrating. They were immensely superior to United. They haven’t lost to Tottenham in the last three seasons. They matched Arsenal and at times had the Gunners on the ropes.
Glimpses of a stunning potential waiting to be unlocked is there. But all that has been getting unlocked all too easily is their defence. Getting thrashed by smaller teams and losing leads became a defining trend — for Klopp, more so than Rodgers.
In Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firminho, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne they have the spine of a potential top four team.
This is a talented team but one that lacks the consistency and cohesiveness to match their flair, fluidity and counterattacking exuberance.
The defence is easy to get at but opposition defences are often hard to break down, especially at home where teams come and sit and never leave space behind.
Liverpool benefit from teams opening up against them; it explains their success against big teams and away from home.
This is a side more defined by fitness than finesse, energy than elegance.
It also shows that Klopp is suffering from the same problem he had at Dortmund in his last year where teams sat deep and forced them to play differently.
Liverpool need a defensive midfielder but they also need a productive creator who can open up defences and a winger to stretch the game.
And what about gegenpressing? It is strange that in England we would see a high-pressing tactic as some sort of fascinating, unique style.
It’s essentially the unappreciated aspect of the English game that the likes of Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa and now Klopp have taken and won trophies with.
For Liverpool, it meant defending away from their self-destructive backline, recovering possession higher up the pitch. At times it can be frantic, chaotic and breathless; swarming over the opposition like bees, choking the space, narrowing the options.
But there has to be variety. Less about speed, energy and pressing and occasionally a game defined by patience and precision with the ball.
Ultimately, in Klopp, Liverpool have found the man who understands the club’s ethos better than most.