As the final whistle blew at Anfield, and the home side celebrated a 2-0 win over their local rivals Everton, the palpable sense of relief among home fans and players alike may have seemed odd to the casual onlooker. This was Liverpool – winners of two trophies last season, who contested the Champions League final and were half an hour from also adding the Premier League to their honours for the season.
And it was Everton – sitting in the bottom three, still widely backed for relegation by people keen on a Premier League bet Cyprus and beyond. Surely a comfortable win was the least they expected.
A look at the Premier League table gives some indication of why the win was so welcomed. Liverpool sit just inside the top half of the league that many had picked them to win last season. Only the deeper sporting problems of Chelsea are preventing them from being the crisis story of the campaign.
And while they hold on to two games in hand on much of the division – and could climb several places by winning those – this was Liverpool’s first win in the Premier League in 2023. That it took until February for that to happen is astonishing.
What’s gone wrong this season?
Liverpool’s campaign always risked being a disappointment – last May could have seen them complete a quadruple of all the major honours they could win, and they were narrowly short of the mark. To match that kind of form was always going to be a long shot. But this season, they’re already out of the FA Cup and League Cup, the two trophies they were defending.
They’re not going to win the Premier League, and won’t be many people’s pick for the Champions’ League given that they face Real Madrid in the last 16. They’ve lost seven league matches out of 21; they lost two in the whole of last season.
Why aren’t they living up to expectations?
Well, the answer to Liverpool’s downfall may lie in the success that preceded it. In getting so close to such honours last season, they played in 63 games. Some of the teams in the division played a total of forty. This season has also been condensed either side of the World Cup, with more midweek games played to ensure the season can be completed by June.
Add that to the fact that we’re still not far past the chaotic staging of seasons affected by Covid, and that squad which won the title in 2020 has been running on fumes for some time. Now, it’s burned out. Add to that the sale of influential forward Sadio Mane, and the teething troubles experienced by his replacement Darwin Nunez, and the crash is less shocking.
Will they get back to what they were?
Let’s pause to acknowledge that a lot of the Liverpool squad have also played in a World Cup during this season, and it’s understandable if they finish well off the pace in the league. The management desperately needs to find a way to ensure that this summer is as much of a recharging point as possible for players who have been run into the ground.
They need to ensure that Jurgen Klopp wants to hang around for what will be a rebuild to some degree. And they need to be prepared for next season to feature some of the same inconsistency. However, they’re still a strong enough club to come back from all of this.