Liverpool have officially missed the boat to reach the UEFA Champions League after Manchester United’s win on Thursday.
Along with Manchester City and Arsenal, Newcastle United and Manchester United have now sealed the top four positions in the Premier League. After a disappointing league campaign, Liverpool find themselves fifth in the league table, staring at Europa League football for the next season.
Jurgen Klopp and his players will be thoroughly disappointed after having failed to finish in the top four, especially after playing three UEFA Champions League finals in the last five seasons. Liverpool pursued the quadruple until the final day of last season.
So very few would have expected them to miss out on a top-four finish this year. Here at The Hard Tackle, we look at the main reasons behind Liverpool’s capitulation and why they missed out on Champions League qualification.
Reluctance to address the midfield problem
It is no secret that Liverpool have an ageing midfield unit, and it is filled with players who are unreliable in terms of fitness. However, the club hierarchy have done nothing to address that problem heading into this season.
Players like Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita are undoubtedly top-class players on their day. But their unavailability has been a major concern for Liverpool this season. Furthermore, the likes of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have been a shadow of their former selves. Both players showed signs of significant decline towards the end of last year, and Liverpool should have brought in adequate replacements.
Despite winning two trophies and reaching the UEFA Champions League final last season, Fenway Sports Group were reluctant to back the manager with necessary additions in the midfield and Liverpool have had to pay a big price for that.
The Reds were extremely keen on signing Aurelien Tchouameni last summer. But the Frenchman opted to join Real Madrid and the Reds decided to abandon the chase for a midfielder after that.
The midfield performances have been Liverpool’s undoing this season and it remains to be seen whether they can turn things around next year. Liverpool are losing James Milner, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Naby Keita on free transfers and the Reds are now left needing multiple midfield reinforcements this summer.
Lack of match-winners
The departure of Sadio Mane during the summer transfer window left Liverpool with a massive void to fill in the attack. The Senegal international is a bonafide match-winner who has helped Liverpool win every single trophy at the club level.
His departure left the Reds with just Mohamed Salah as a proven goalscorer and match-winner at their disposal. When the chips were down, Mane and Salah often stepped up to the plate and delivered for their side. With the Egyptian shouldering the goalscoring responsibility at Liverpool all season, the Reds have looked like a severely weakened unit going forward.
To add to their misery, Luis Diaz was sidelined for the majority of the season with an injury and Liverpool have missed his ability to open up defences with his pace and trickery as well. Summer signing Darwin Nunez is still getting to grips with Premier League football and has not been able to hit the ground running.
Misplaced loyalty from Klopp
Jurgen Klopp is undoubtedly one of the best of his generation, and he has proven it time and again guiding underdogs to multiple trophies. However, his misplaced loyalties led to his downfall at Borussia Dortmund and he is heading down a similar path at Liverpool as well. Klopp’s persistence with players who have clearly regressed has weakened the side enormously.
Players like Jordan Henderson are simply not good enough to start for Liverpool on a daily basis. But the German manager has kept his faith in the England international and that has cost Liverpool.
Similarly, he has been reluctant to bench players like James Milner and Fabinho during the first half of the season as well. The introduction of Stefan Bajcetic during the second half of the campaign improved Liverpool immensely, and it showed that Klopp should have been picking teams on merit right from the start.
Mid-season World Cup
Hosting a World Cup midway through a campaign has hurt most teams and Liverpool are no different. The Reds competed for the quadruple last year, and they ended up playing more games than any team in the world. The key players were clearly tired heading into the new season, and the prospect of playing a World Cup in Qatar midway through the campaign made things worse for Liverpool.
Players like Virgil van Dijk have not been at their best this season. But the Dutchman has had to return from a career-threatening injury and he has barely had any time off due to his commitments with Liverpool and the Netherlands. Liverpool are in desperate need of a summer break so that the players can recharge their batteries and come back out snarling next season.
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