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Salvaging A Lost Season

A season that started with such promise (remember Liverpool winning the Community Shield?) has gone almost completely off the rails. Out of both English club tournaments, wallowing in midtable in the Premier League and facing a daunting Champions League tie, the club have reached a real crossroads at the moment. With still nearly half a season to go, here are some reasonable goals that can still be achieved but before that one, big larger point:

With the latest news regarding Man City and the fact that yet again they’ve been found to be working with obvious and quite possibly illegal advantages, I think some proper context deserves to be spoken about. The fact that Liverpool have run that organization so close for nearly half a decade is a far greater feat than even initially realized. I am not one to celebrate moral victories like coming in 2nd by fractions on several occasions but with time and distance, it becomes even more radical that Liverpool were able to maintain their pace with City for so long. In a lot of ways, Liverpool’s decline in form shouldn’t be a huge surprise as any sustained sprint will eventually have a letdown. What has hurt most is the sudden fall off the cliff and that at the moment, with such poor league form, there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

It has been extremely tough to watch matches this season and not know what team is going to turn up. For basically 5 years running, I would tune into any match and reasonably expect victory but at the least, a strong showing. Liverpool have come to represent consistency and a certain verve and zest for attacking football that has brought along many fans. What’s been easy to spot recently are the bandwagoners who have not sat through the nearly 30 years of glumness that has come before the Klopp era and it shows. The fact they want to chop and change everyone because of one bad season relegated any of their points to the video game dustbin, where if something isn’t going your way, you rage quit the game and start over. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t give you a quick reset button, but rather you have to take the lumps and work your way through it.

Jurgen Klopp and this team have given me more joy than I can count and I think he’s at least earned the chance to try and rebuild the team. If you look at what Alex Ferguson achieved at United, you’d realize that he had to endure down seasons where big decisions were made in order to come back stronger. Klopp deserves that chance and I really don’t see any manager who could come in and fix things in such a way that it would make any difference, given the long-term relationships and infrastructure he has helped build. Especially not halfway through the season. Any fan wishing for a new manager after a bad run can root for a Chelsea or Leeds who seem to enjoy new managers every season or so.

Now, with that preamble aside, here are some goals that Liverpool can still aim for in the remaining months of the season:

1. Shock Madrid And Go On A Champions League Run

Given the current form, this would seem like quite a lofty wish and even under the best of times, Madrid has had our number. That being said, Madrid haven’t had the best of seasons themselves and recently have been in up-and-down form, which could level things a bit. They still possess the killer instincts that have seemed to disappear from the Reds however so a lot will be on the line in the first leg at Anfield. Klopp and Liverpool usually are up for these big European nights and a victory over their celebrated rivals would go a long way to kickstarting a barnstorming end to the season. With top four looking more and more distant by the day, winning the whole thing in Europe could be the only way back in next year. It’s quite a dream but you have to dream big to achieve big. It all starts with a dominant performance at home and Liverpool do possess in their core, players who have delivered at the highest level in the biggest games. Summoning that again is vital.

2. Finish Top 6

At the very least, Liverpool must do all they can to stop the bleeding in the league. Since the turn of the year, they’ve been about the worst team in all of England and need to figure out how to grind results out again. The days of the swashbuckling Liverpool attack might be over for now, so the new brand of football has to be about doing the little things, digging in and being opportunistic. What has been so catastrophic to the season is that teams now seem able to outrun and outthink Liverpool, which seemed impossible less than a year ago. A mix of age in the squad, loss of form, confidence and perhaps the overall tax of running so hard for half a decade have all come to roost together.

Still, there are so many games left and if the squad can push through this awful period to slowly climb back up, they could find themselves at least securing European competition again. The Europa League is certainly not the goal for the team, but it beats being shut out completely and frankly, if the summer transfer window is going to be a success, Liverpool must remain somewhat in striking distance of the truly elite clubs.

3. Experiment

When even Klopp has admitted he isn’t sure where to exactly pinpoint the issues in the club, you know things are dire. So if they keep doing the same things over and over and expecting new results, frankly, they will be caught in this insane loss of form and in a loop. Now is the time to get a bit radical, especially in midfield. I’ve been banging the drum forever now about the need to refresh the midfield and yet the results have not really changed. It could be time to finally try two more drastic steps: When he’s fit, play Bobby Firmino as an attacking midfielder and try a front two of just Nunez and Salah.

It is without question in my mind that all of these players possess world-class quality and need to be played in positions that maximize their strengths along with enhancing what the team is currently capable of. Bobby before his injury had been probably our best attacking player and his link-up play is and always has been his greatest strength. Putting him in a position to be more on the ball and play passes to our further frontline players could provide a new look to an attack that has gone stale. I still trust Salah to get out of his funk but he needs more support. Both Darwin and Cody likewise have been thrust into a team in transition so it’s no wonder they have found it difficult to get a sustained run of form.

Darwin and Salah’s pace as two strikers allows for the rest of the team to play wider out and then centralize an attack. Salah on the wing has been so bottled up this season it’s impressive he can even register a shot. Placing him a bit more centrally can allow for his strength in hold-up play, which is underrated, to come more into use and Darwin can make further darting runs in as well as hold up on his own. Some sort of changed setup, perhaps playing a 5-3-2 or a 4-3-1-2 could allow players to try slightly altered positions as well, if for nothing else than to break the squad out of its rut.

There is certainly the chance for any radical shift to backfire, as it’s asking players to play in ways they aren’t familiar with but the current setup just seems stuck in neutral and short of just benching players for games, experimenting and putting players exactly where their best skills suit them could be an option.

4. Sort Out Ownership

This is probably the most complicated goal of them all since so much is in play here. However, what is clear is that Liverpool will require a rebuild and recharge in the summer. If the current ownership group is more interested in selling the team for a profit than focusing on helping the current program get back to the top, then they need to swiftly go through the selling process. Being a team in limbo restrains the ability to make moves and puts everything into utter chaos. What has been interesting to watch is how FSG have gone so out of favour with their initial sports investment: The Boston Red Sox. Fans there are livid about the lack of spending, letting good players leave and the feeling the team is falling behind their rivals. Sound familiar? If FSG are trying to get out of the football ownership game, rip the bandaid off now and get it over with, instead of playing footsie for months. FSG have overall been very decent to good owners. If they want to cement their legacy, either stay and invest or move out quickly so that new blood can.

5. Never Walk Alone

Liverpool are our team, we need to trust in the people there. Not every season can and will end with a title. Players will go through bad stretches or get old. Managers will eventually retire or move on, but we choose the club to root for because of what they represent, out of love, loyalty or some other ethos. Now is actually the time to prove what a fan really is: to be there in the tough times. It makes victory that much sweeter in the end. That doesn’t at all mean to blindly follow in every PR slogan or keep quiet when criticism is needed. But it also doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and giving up hope. Dark days indeed are upon us, but never be afraid of the storm. There’s always a golden sky yet to come if you stick it out in the end. It almost certainly won’t be this year but the joy and camaraderie that supporting Liverpool have given me ultimately mean more than any singular victory and that is what I choose to rely on in the days ahead.