As the Reds close in on what would be only their second top four finish in eight seasons, there is a still a feeling of “what if”
- What if we had been more consistent?
- What if we had been able to defeat the lesser lights of the league?
- What if we improved our defensive frailties?
Perhaps some of the questions left unanswered for Klopp’s side.
This sense of disappointment at the way the season is ending has become more apparent following Chelsea’s unforeseen blip over the last couple of weeks, having lost to Crystal Palace at home and more recently to their old hero’s side- Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Chelsea’s stumble raises the question as to whether Liverpool could have been challenging them to the very end if they could have kept at a consistent playing rate throughout the season.
Liverpool boast the best head to head record this season against the top six, having not lost a single match.
However, the issue lies with the teams they could not dismantle- the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley, Swansea and Hull.
The games against lower league opposition which they should be winning, they have found the most strenuous, paradoxically taking pleasure in sweeping aside the top guns of the division, which are meant to be the tougher games on paper.
This has been a common trend over the years with Liverpool sides and shows no signs of halting anytime soon.
If Klopp and his team found a way to shake this issue off, they would have been up there challenging to the end.
If they won the games they would be expected to win in many people’s eyes (Hull (A) Swansea (H) Bournemouth ( H + A), Sunderland (A) West Ham (H), they would be 15 points better off than they are currently.
This would have put then on 81 points, five clear of the leaders, Chelsea.
Of course, you can’t expect to win every single match. For example the Reds drew at grounds such as Southampton and Tottenham, as well as losing away to Leicester.
These matches carry less of an expectation to make three points imperative due to the difficulty of the fixture.
Although, I am sure if you asked Liverpool fans at the start of the season if they would be happy with fourth place, plenty would have said yes.
This does not escape the fact that if they can find a way to beat the’ weaker teams’ – title prospects turn from ambitious to certain.
Why is this happening in the first place? How can you complete the double over Arsenal, beat Manchester City, Tottenham, and Chelsea, but lose to bottom half opposition.
Many believe it is down to the mentality of the Liverpool players going into the less significant matches and almost having an attitude of “we’ve already won” before a ball is kicked. It’s not clear if this is the case, but it is definitely not the approach to adopt.
Others put it down to the smaller sides nullifying the Reds and stopping them from injecting their fast and fluid football which has damaged sides on numerous occasions.
The opponents have studied how Klopp’s side functions best and therefore simply counteract this by playing defensive and “parking the bus”.
This then prevents pockets of space appearing for the dangerous attackers such as Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, and Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool’s weak point has been their defence for a while now, this season has been somewhat better, but there is an overlying issue.
Having lost the likes of Sami Hyypia, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, John Arne Riise, and Jamie Carragher over the years, they have lacked leadership at the back.
Though, Joel Matip has been a terrific signing by Klopp and his presence at the heart of the defence has added stability.
However, Klopp became aware of the left back problem surrounding the club fairly soon into his tenure, but selected an unorthodox way to fix matters.
Alberto Moreno has not settled in this role since joining from Sevilla in 2014, mainly due to his inability to stay in the correct position in crucial moments, not helped by the Spaniard becoming accustomed to jetting down the flanks and not getting back.
Klopp decided to play versatile midfielder, James Milner, in the vacant left back slot, after the German manager soon realised Moreno would not cut the bill.
Milner has done superbly in filling the void, his only issue is that his pace lets him down and with the frightening pace of wingers in the league, it can become problematic.
Klopp has had the opportunity to strengthen in three separate transfer windows, but decided against signing a new left back. If he doesn’t sign an appropriate player to sort this issue, it is likely to have consequences in the long run.
A new centre back or two is also required. Despite Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip forming a formidable partnership in which they haven’t lost a game when they have both started a match, there have been times when they have both been unavailable for selection, leaving the Reds with limited options.
Reinforcements are needed mainly for squad depth reasons, but Klopp may also be looking for improvements on his current workforce.
In addition to this, another “what if” the Reds may be debating, is something that is more out of their control.
With Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, and Jordan Henderson all out injured currently, the Reds have done a fine job in achieving recent wins against Stoke and West Brom, in what were tough away games.
But, the real issue was when Philippe Coutinho, who was in dazzling form at the time, was ruled out for three months back in November, which kept him side-lined until the start of 2017.
During this busy winter period, Liverpool’s lack of squad depth was exemplified clearly when other players in the side also sustaining injuries led to a torrid January, where just one win was picked up over nine games for the Reds.
If luck had gone their way and all their players stayed fit for the majority of the season, just how would this have changed things?
When Leicester City miraculously won the league last year, they were very fortunate that their star players such as Riyad Mahrez, and Jamie Vardy stayed fit all season.
Although this wasn’t why they won the league, it was most certainly a push in the right direction.
The Reds must learn from these harsh realities moving forward. But, if they are to change their approach and improve issues such as consistency and defending then there is a strong chance that during his reign, Jürgen Klopp can lead his side to Premiership glory.
By Tom Cavilla.