Liverpool suffered another chastening weekend as they suffered a 3-0 defeat to Wolves. This time last year, there were arguments that they were the best team in world football as they were competing for an unprecedented quadruple.
After the previous 2-1 loss to Brighton in the FA Cup, Jurgen Klopp’s side are now only in contention for the Champions League – though on current form, they are unlikely to get past last-16 opponents Real Madrid.
With Jurgen Klopp insisting that the Reds won’t sign a midfielder, or any player in fact before the end of the transfer window, he needs to get the best of what he currently possesses to salvage their season.
Sportsmail takes a look at what the Reds can achieve and how their manager can get them back on track.
What would represent a good season?
Champions League qualification. Simple as that. No matter how this season finishes it will be a massive come-down from their remarkable 2021-22 campaign.
But competing in Europe’s most prestigious competition will allow them to attract the quality of players they need to get themselves back into contention – such as Jude Bellingham.
There are two ways they can do this, through a top-four finish or winning the Champions League itself. Given Liverpool’s struggles, it appears highly unlikely they will win the Champions League.
Even if they can see off the side that beat them in last year’s final, Real Madrid, they will still likely need to get past the likes of Man City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.
Liverpool would love to win the Champions League after coming so close last season, but if they do exit in the last 16, then the Reds can put their full focus behind the Premier League – also giving Klopp’s players more time to rest up – which could prove beneficial to their chances.
What Klopp can do to get top-four
Return to form quickly!
With 11 points to Newcastle who occupy the final Champions League spot, there is not much time left for Klopp to turn his side’s season around.
The next two months will be huge for the Reds and they will need to pick up big points if they are to have any chance of a top-four finish.
Liverpool lost the first game of their make-or-break month in a 3-0 loss to Wolves.
They next face another team fighting the drop, Everton, who will be spurred on by their victory over Arsenal.
They then face Newcastle at St James’ Park. To this day, Liverpool are the only team to beat Newcastle this season in a dramatic 2-1 victory at Anfield with a 98th minute winner from Fabio Carvalho.
Then they have a tough test at Selhurst Park which they need to win before a tricky run of fixtures. After Palace, their next five matches include both Manchester United and Arsenal at Anfield, and Man City at the Etihad.
If they can’t close the gap in the next two months then it appears they will be already looking to next season by the start of April.
Those two games against Newcastle and Manchester United could prove to be decisive come the end of the season if the Reds are able to mount a return to form.
Drop Salah when Jota and Diaz return
It almost feels criminal to suggest that Mohamed Salah should be dropped, given that when he’s on form, there is no doubt that he is one of the best players in world football.
However, going off current form you wouldn’t believe that, with Salah barely noticeable as he struggles to make an impact in games. There are a number of reasons for that, one of which he’s spending more time on the periphery.
He’s averaging just 39 touches per 90 minutes and 7.3 touches in the attacking box per 90 this season – both the lowest figures of his Liverpool career. That’s down from 50 and 9.6 in 2021-2022.
That is partly down to the team’s slump as a whole but he also looks a player that needs a rest.
The Egyptian is untouchable in Jurgen Klopp’s side and unless he’s injured he rarely misses a game.
His effectiveness has arguably taken a drop since last year’s African Cup of Nations heartache. He scored 16 league goals before going away with Egypt last season and only six since he returned in February.
This campaign we’ve perhaps only seen the best of Salah in the Champions League where he has scored as many goals in just six games compared to 19 in the Premier League (seven).
What isn’t helping at the moment is the injuries to Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Roberto Firmino. Last week, Klopp said that it will be a ‘couple of weeks’ before Firmino and Jota are back in training, while Diaz will be out for longer.
When they are back, it will allow Salah more time to rest up and, hopefully for Liverpool’s sake, get the maximum out of their best player.
Keep Fabinho out of the team
There had been calls for Klopp to drop Fabinho from the line-up, and going off Liverpool’s two games before Wolves, the German appeared to be subscribing to the same theory.
The out-of-form Brazilian made an eight-minute cameo against Chelsea, and he came off the bench in the FA Cup defeat to Brighton – a six-minute appearance in which he should have been sent off for a nasty challenge on Evan Ferguson.
Liverpool over the last three games have played a midfield consisting of Thiago, Naby Keita and Stefan Bajcetic.
Though the Reds have failed to win either of those two matches, there were signs against Chelsea and Brighton that the midfield looked stronger than what it has with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
This is somewhat of a remarkable statement given that Fabinho has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the world in recent seasons, while Henderson’s relentless energy and boundless pressing has been a big reason as to why Liverpool have been so solid in the middle of the park.
Klopp has recently spoken about the need to win more challenges in midfield. Henderson, who played the best part of 40 minutes against Brighton off the bench, contested just one duel in that time.
The often-maligned Keita, who Henderson replaced, was involved in seven duels before he was taken off.
Liverpool’s performance in Brighton appeared to deteriorate when Klopp made a number of changes just before the hour mark including Henderson for Keita.
Thiago has been the best of the established trio, while 18-year-old Bajcetic has fitted in nicely since breaking into the team. So this perhaps should be the midfield Klopp continues to use going forward.
Fabinho was kept out entirely of the Wolves debacle, through illness according to his manager. His absence failed to lift the teams performance, but restoring him at present still does not feel like the right answer to Liverpool’s midfield concerns.
Build Nunez and Gakpo’s confidence
When you spend over £100m on new forwards, you would expect big returns. However, in Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, Klopp has two players who are not currently playing to their potential.
Nunez has scored ten goals in 26 appearances across all competitions this season, though he arguably should have double that amount.
The 23-year-old appears to have a big future ahead of him and he is doing a lot of things right in the Liverpool team. There have been times though where he appears to look indecisive when an opportunity to score falls at his feet.
This especially looks the case when he has time on the ball to make a decision about what he wants to do. When he has less time to take the shot, his finishing appears to be more accurate and instinctive.
Gakpo however, has not scored in six games for the Reds since joining earlier this month.
Unlike Nunez, he didn’t have a pre-season to help him adjust to Liverpool’s style and it does currently look as though a stranger has been thrown into the starting line-up.
Their collective lack of confidence is hurting them during matches and Klopp needs to resolve this if they are to get the best out of them this season, and also boost their top-four chances.
It is still a while before Jota, Firmino and Diaz are out of action, so the sooner Nunez and Gakpo hit their stride the better for Liverpool.
Take inspiration from two seasons ago
If there’s anything Liverpool can take confidence from is that they were in this same position two seasons ago and still made the Champions League.
In the Covid-affected 2020-21 season, the Reds appeared to be out of contention for the top four after losing a remarkable six consecutive home games in the league.
The Reds were without their three main centre-backs (Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez) for the second half of the season, but they managed to go on a ten-game unbeaten run at the end of the season with eight victories.
They finished third in the table despite playing with unproven youngsters Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams at centre-back, and even needing a goal from goalkeeper Alisson against West Brom to keep their hopes alive.
With the players Liverpool possess, and the ones still to come back from injury, no matter how bad their form is they’ve perhaps got more reason to qualify for the Champions League than they did two years ago.
The Reds will be eight points off the top four should they win their game-in-hand they hold over Newcastle, so it’s not over for Klopp and his side. It will be game over if they can’t repeat the efforts of the 2020-21 team.
Sort out their defensive issues swiftly
Criticism over Liverpool’s shaky defence and their ability to capitulate and concede the first goal in games have been spoken about at depth throughout this season.
But it is one that needs repeating as they can’t achieve their goals for the campaign without sorting this issue out.
Virgil van Dijk, despite his underwhelming displays this season, will be a big miss until he returns from injury in a few weeks time.
The likes of Ibrahima Konate, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez will need to step up on recent performances if they are to keep their hopes alive by the time the Dutchman returns.
They will need better protection though their from their midfield, which teams have been playing through at ease this season.
Andrew Robertson after the loss to Brighton said: ‘We need to start winning games. It’s easy to say and harder to fix. This season has been nowhere near good enough. We wanted a new start at the turn of the year. If anything we’ve been worse.
‘You can’t put your finger on one thing that’s gone wrong, it’s more than that. You can tell we’re not confident in front of goal, we’re still a bit open defensively. We need to get our confidence back.’