After a shaky start to the season, Liverpool’s 9-0 hammering of Bournemouth was meant to be a turning point.
The moment when the Reds finally got their season going, put their troubles behind them and used that showing as the benchmark for future performances.
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked fearsome again, like the Liverpool of old, the devastatingly ruthless Red Arrows zooming forwards, cutting opposition defences to shreds and their seemingly tireless press suffocating rivals.
Liverpool’s shaky start to the season continued with a 4-1 defeat to Napoli on Tuesday night
But as more time passes, that record-equalling result looks less like the rule and more like the exception, an anomaly in a sea of mediocrity.
In truth, results could have been even worse were it not for several moments of good fortune – and the Napoli result on Tuesday, a 4-1 defeat in Italy that could conceivably have been 7-1, is the straw that could break the camel’s back.
There is a recognition things have to change, with Klopp admitting the team need to ‘reinvent themselves’. So how can they do that? And why is it necessary?
Below, Sportsmail takes a look at how the German can turn things around…
What’s gone wrong?
This summer Klopp was potentially one of the least likely managers in the world to get the sack after last year’s fierce, but ultimately failed, charge for a historic and unprecedented quadruple.
First, he is still not close to being fired. But even the fact he was asked if he feared for his job after Chelsea axed Thomas Tuchel shows how quickly things have fallen apart.
There’s no question of Liverpool being unlucky so far this season – even Klopp himself admits things need to improve.
The opening day draw against newly-promoted Fulham might easily have been a loss – Neeskens Kebano hit the post and there was a fortunate bounce before Mohamed Salah’s late equaliser.
A 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace saw Liverpool dominate the ball and take plenty of shots despite Darwin Nunez’ brainless red card just before the hour, but the Eagles could and perhaps should have won it with a glorious late chance for Wilfried Zaha.
The defeat to a Manchester United side, with confidence at rock-bottom, raised alarm bells
Those draws papered over the cracks. Then a 2-1 loss against a Manchester United side with confidence at rock-bottom, who had lost 4-0 against Brentford in their last game, raised alarm bells.
There are some qualifiers for Liverpool: it’s still early in the season, they’re just three points off the top four and six points off the leaders, Napoli are a serious side and all these recent woes have come amid an injury crisis.
However, their form is a concern.
With teams around them improving – Arsenal look renewed under Mikel Arteta, Tottenham resemble the successful Antonio Conte more and more every day, Erik ten Hag is taking promising first steps at Man United and Graham Potter looks a shrewd managerial appointment for Chelsea – they need to pick things up, and fast.
Fail to do so and they might not only be out of the Premier League title race – but be in danger of missing the top four. That would have been an almost unthinkable estimation even two months ago.
Refresh an ageing squad
Obviously, with the transfer window now closed until January, Liverpool can’t refresh the squad with new players for at least three-and-a-half months. But it has to be high on the agenda for the scouting and recruitment team.
With echoes of Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure at Tottenham, which ended with the Argentine being sacked in November 2019, the squad looks very… familiar.
Familiarity breeds cohesion, but it can also breed stagnation and staleness and Liverpool have pretty much had the same core team for five years now.
The first game of the 2019-20 season three years ago, a Community Shield defeat on penalties against Manchester City, shared eight of the same starters as the opening-day draw with Fulham this season.
Summer signing Fabio Carvalho, 20, is a player for the future rather than an instant starter
Nunez, signed this summer, is a promising striker but the only other two permanent additions, Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay, are more ones for the future than instant starters.
Similarly, Ibrahima Konate and Luis Diaz – the only two senior signings last campaign – have both settled in well, but a new signing, particularly in midfield, looks prudent.
Of course, the Reds shouldn’t be throwing huge sums of money at players if it doesn’t fit their plan, and it is widely believed they are saving their cash reserves for a mega-move for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham next summer.
But they might need someone sooner than later and Klopp knows it.
Shake things up
Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann questioned how Klopp’s No 2 Pep Lijnders could write a tell-all book on Liverpool’s tactics, giving a clear insight into the inner workings of the club, while he is still at the club.
In August, he released the tome called ‘Intensity: Inside Liverpool FC‘, described as giving ‘expert first hand insight into everything from training to tactics and team talks’.
It is unlikely that he has given away all of the Reds’ secrets, but the former Germany midfielder insists ‘alarm bells should be ringing’, and questions why Klopp’s assistant was allowed to release such a book while still working at the club.
Hamann tweeted: ‘The alarm bells should have been ringing for Liverpool fans when the current assistant manager wrote a book while still employed by the club. How he was allowed to do it I’m not too sure.’
Jurgen Klopp’s No 2 Pep Lijnders released a tell-all book on Liverpool’s tactics last month
I’m not sure Napoli players were ordered to read Italian-language copies of the book before Wednesday’s game, but there is a serious point to be made: Liverpool might be being ‘figured out’.
In the same way Pochettino ran into problems at Spurs, teams now know about their defensive fragility and know how to exploit their high line.
Palace did it with Wilfried Zaha. United did it with Marcus Rashford. Newcastle did it with Alexander Isak. Other teams will surely follow. Klopp’s gegenpressing and ultra-aggressive, ‘heavy metal’ football has served them fairly well so far, but it might be worth tweaks to the tactical plan.
Maybe leaving a full-back to cover while the other roams forward, maybe dropping the defensive line five-10 yards, maybe adding a centre back and playing 3-4-3 like Tottenham and Chelsea, maybe removing a forward in place of a midfielder to increase solidity, improve ball retention and help Salah move more centrally.
Connect the midfield
The defence has often been too open at points this season, while the attack failed to make the most of vast swathes of possession against Palace and Newcastle.
But the midfield looks to be the real problem. Fabinho is playing regularly in the holding role, but in front of him things are a bit more up in the air.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita are injured – again – as are influential captain Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones and Fabio Carvalho.
That’s meant the likes of teenager Harvey Elliott, 19, and veteran James Milner, 36, getting more game time than perhaps Klopp would like. Elliott is a fine prospect and Milner a fine professional.
Thiago’s return from injury – he came off the bench against Napoli – cannot come soon enough
But for a side aiming for the title, they should be squad players at most. Gifted playmaker Thiago Alcantara’s return from injury – he had half an hour off the bench against Napoli – cannot come soon enough.
Fabinho and Henderson, the other two in Liverpool’s first-choice midfield trio, are not world-class ball players and the club is missing the Spaniard’s ability to pick the ball up from defence, travel with the ball, play forwards and link the team together.
To a lesser extent, Keita performs that role too – but for the moment he’s out as well. Klopp will hope that, at least in the short term, Juventus loanee Arthur Melo could solve that problem.
Improve the mood around the squad
Towards the end of Tuchel’s era at Chelsea, the mood had clearly darkened. The German’s brow was more furrowed, the smiles not as wide, the mood not as relaxed.
Klopp has always had a tendency to be irascible in press conferences where he doesn’t like the line of questioning – and to be fair, he’s not the only manager to do so – but snapping and losing his rag with journalists is not a good look when genuine questions are asked about the safety of supporters ahead of the Italy game.
Constantly moaning about referees, the grass being too long against Fulham, and similarly outspoken complaints about performance and the players’ shortcomings might be genuinely how he is feeling but it only undermines morale at Anfield.
Obviously, winning games can help to put smiles on faces and imbue confidence in a squad perhaps questioning themselves for the first time in years.
But that can be reflected by the manager too, his public-facing persona and his demeanour. It starts with Klopp.
Rediscover their aura of invincibility
Against Fulham, big Cottagers striker Aleksandar Mitrovic twisted this way and that, turning Virgil van Dijk inside out, before winning the foul from the usually exemplary Dutch defender.
Van Dijk waggled his finger desperately at the referee to indicate it wasn’t a foul but he had been done up like a kipper. It was the first time ever a player had dribbled past him and drawn a penalty in a Premier League game.
Against United, he stood miles off Jadon Sancho, who had acres of time and ample space in the penalty area to pick his spot and score the opening goal. Milner stood right in Van Dijk’s face afterwards and gave him a rocket.
The once heroic Virgil van Dijk suddenly appears fallible and feeble in Liverpool’s defence
The following week, Zaha escaped his attention to score for Palace, leading to more criticisms of his defending, and against Napoli – although it was a team-wide problem – Van Dijk was lacklustre again.
A lot of Liverpool’s power comes in the fear factor they project, often personified by the elegant 6ft 4ins powerhouse. But that aura of invincibility has slipped, with Van Dijk and his team-mates suddenly looking fallible and feeble.
The ‘you shall not pass’ atmosphere they project must return, and soon.
Troubling times ahead?
If their current woes continue, Liverpool may not be focusing on catching City but whether they are going to be overtaken by three or four other clubs this season.
Luis Diaz is a fine player, and has settled into life on the left wing brilliantly after Sadio Mane’s departure for Bayern Munich this summer, but the Senegalese’s departure robs them of a certain je ne sais quoi, an explosive dynamism, an unpredictability, a penchant for the big moments that they undoubtedly miss.
And he’s not coming back. Yet there are reasons for optimism: none of the above issues are unsolvable with a little time and love, and a little inspiration.
Klopp has the latter and will almost certainly be allowed the former. ‘Better Days are coming,’ sung Irishman Dermot Kennedy over Sky Sports‘ recap of last year’s Premier League season. Klopp will certainly hope so.