Jurgen Klopp stood at the far end after the final whistle, put his hands together and bowed his head.
It was a public apology for the most desperate performance of his Liverpool reign as this season of woe reached new depths.
The response of those who stayed to the bitter end was merciful. Klopp has turned dreams into reality over the past seven years and has a lot of credit in the bank.
However, there was just something amazing about the guy who usually radiates positivity and looks downright desperate as he turns and walks off the court. Watching him on the touchline over the past 90 minutes was a case study for someone baffled by what was unfolding before their eyes.
How could a team that threatened to win it all just eight months ago suddenly look so pathetically lifeless? The speed of the retreat was amazing.
“was bad. said the manager. “I can’t remember a worse match.”
Make no mistake, this is the toughest challenge Klopp has faced during his spell at Anfield. Yes, two years ago they endured a torrid run – losing six in a row at home – before rallying to secure Champions League qualification. But at the time the extenuating circumstances were even greater – all of Liverpool’s top defense players had suffered season-ending injuries and matches were soulless behind closed doors.
Now there is a lot wrong. Of course, injuries have played a new role with Darwin Nunez joining Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines. But there is no excuse for the scarcity of what is offered. In every department there are glaring weaknesses. It’s very disjointed. Faith does not exist.
After 18 Premier League matches, Liverpool have accumulated fewer points (28), scored fewer goals (34), conceded more (25) and had a worse goal difference (+9) than at this stage than in any previous full season. under the leadership of Klopp.
They have picked up just eight points out of a possible 27 during their travels and have shipped 13 goals in six matches in all competitions since the World Cup. A lot of this winter training camp in Dubai proves its worth.
Have to go back to 1993 under Graeme Souness for the last time Liverpool started a calendar year with back-to-back league defeats.
Much of the current anger from supporters is being directed at the owners which is understandable.
“The transfer market is not the answer for us. My job is to use the boys,” said Klopp, when asked before the trip to Brighton about the potential for more income after signing Cody Gakbo for £37m.
But if Liverpool don’t buy a midfielder in this window, it’s hard to see them salvage anything from this season’s wreck.
Klopp has done miracles for Fenway Sports Group, finding success with balancing the books, but it’s not sustainable. The manager has admitted he would like to take more risks in the transfer market and now is the time to support him.
Off-field uncertainty remains an unwanted distraction with the owners’ constant search for new investments. FSG chairman Mike Gordon has taken a back seat in Liverpool’s day-to-day running overseeing the process, while outgoing sporting director Julian Ward and director of research Ian Graham serve out notice periods. For a club that prides itself on stability, these are turbulent times.
Klopp deserves better but he is also not blameless. He spent a whole week on the training field trying to react and sort out the shortcomings that afflicted Liverpool in the FA Cup defeat against Wolverhampton and the miserable defeat at Brentford.
However, the same problems remained. Once again they lost a lot of challenges (44 percent of duels won) and again they lost the ball again and again in dangerous areas (39 percent possession). Frail at one end, toothless at the other, and thus pedestrian in the centre.
The sight of Brighton, playing with such energy, swarming around Liverpool and making mistakes again and again, was a painful reminder of what Klopp’s side used to do with opponents.
“It was a very organized team against a very disorganized team,” was Klopp’s stern assessment.
The result impressed Liverpool, who were attacked and excelled around the pitch throughout. Luckily still level at the break, it was hard to believe how they gave up in the second half. Brighton had nine shots on goal.
Have the players stopped listening, or are they simply unable to do what is being asked of them?
“The week seemed like everyone got what I said honestly,” said Klopp. But the result was horrific to watch. I think the players are listening, I’m sure of it, but I know where I’m coming from and I see that it doesn’t sound like that.”
The experienced midfield trio of Fabinho, Thiago and Jordan Henderson have been snubbed time and time again this season. Fabinho has won 50 per cent of his duels at Brighton, Henderson 40 per cent and Thiago 37.5 per cent – and that’s not including all the times easily passed as the gaps between them were exploited. They don’t seem to have the legs anymore, but Klopp was faithful to a fault.
Why start them together again? And why, when it was obvious that it wasn’t working, would you wait until the middle of the second half to make changes? It comes down to having no other options that he fully trusts.
Last summer, Liverpool missed out on signing French midfielder Aurelien Chouamini, who opted to join Real Madrid instead. Where was plan B? The answer was definitely not the deadline to sign a loan panic with Arthur.
Klopp is right that no one could have predicted the scale of last season’s withdrawal, but he should also have been more ruthless when it came to modernizing the squad and offloading some of those whose value and importance to the club had waned. After building a great team, the transition to another team would never be smooth, but the failure to start revamping the midfield cost them dearly.
“Low confidence, low energy,” Henderson said when asked about the mood in the dressing room after the game at Amex Stadium.
Liverpool is in a rut. The collective malaise seems to run deep. Tactically and in terms of man-management, Klopp needs to find answers quickly before a nagging slump turns into a crisis.
(Top photo: Sebastian Frigg/MB Media/Getty Images)