There have been a few moments in this most brutal tumble down the mountain when it has been necessary to wonder how exactly it came to this for Liverpool. On Saturday, one such instance occurred in stoppage time.
It was rooted in the sight of Mo Salah chasing shadows alone as the Wolves backline rotated possession around him in a blur of one-touch cruelty.
With each pass came the taunt of ‘ole’ from around Molineux and there were a good four or five of those. If it occurred to any of Salah’s team-mates to join the hunt, to go as a pack as they did when all was well, then let’s just say it was not immediately obvious.
Indeed, their pride at 3-0 down would appear to have gone the same way as their defence, midfield, attack, pressing system, transfer budget and aura across the past few weeks and beyond. Mentality monsters? They were last seen hiding from Craig Dawson and Mario Lemina under the duvet.
But that is the way it is for Liverpool now, barely eight months after playing in the Champions League final at the close of a season in which they stood on the brink of four trophies and claimed two. Were they the last great days of a magnificent dynasty? The passing of time has given it that sort of appearance.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have gone from mentality monsters to hiding from Wolves’ Craig Dawson
Dawson’s first goal for Wolves put Liverpool 2-0 down early on as they fell to another loss
Their first goal of the game was a Liverpool own goal by Joel Matip in the first five minutes
Of course, betting against Jurgen Klopp is only marginally less daft than burning your cash outright, and yet the current stink feels worse than at any other time since he found his feet at Anfield.
That they have lost successive away games at Brentford, Brighton and Wolves to an aggregate of 9-1 is troubling. That it is no longer possible to judge which is the bigger liability between their defence and midfield smacks of a spreading rot.
The neglect of that midfield through multiple transfer windows has undermined the whole operation, and talk on such a theme is hardly a surprise at this point, but even with injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate, who could have imagined the back line would fall so far below the usual standard? Jamie Carragher nailed his assessment of how Joe Gomez and Joel Matip coped on Saturday, tweeting: ‘It’s not too difficult to play centre back next to the leader of the back four. Judge centre backs when they have to lead themselves. Shambolic.’
To judge from Klopp’s fury during the opening 12 minutes, a period in which Matip scored an own goal and Dawson made it 2-0, pundit and manager were on the same page.
For Liverpool to go on to concede three to what was statistically the worst attack in the Premier League — in doing so Klopp’s side have now shipped more in 20 games than in the entirety of last season — was enough to make you wonder if ‘shambolic’ was a touch generous.
In a reasonable moment during a twitchy press conference, Klopp was right in pointing out that there was an improvement after going two goals down. They did get better, they did find some degree of control, they did create openings for Salah and Darwin Nunez to waste, and in Stefan Bajcetic the manager has a teenage midfielder who has the intuition and technique to thrive.
For now that serves as a lit match in a very dark cave, because the chaos in other areas is too limiting.
That was best demonstrated by the lacerated confidence and poor touches of Matip, the repeated failure of the defence to close down Wolves forwards, the lost duels and also a catalogue of misplaced passes, including one from Gomez that triggered Ruben Neves’s strike for 3-0. Even then Gomez was arguably less culpable than Thiago, who did not try to track Neves’s run into the area.
Liverpool’s midfield struggled to find any foothold in the game as they were constantly overrun
Eight months after playing in the Champions League final Liverpool look like a different team
None of these were such recurring traits under Klopp prior to this season, and none would suggest a quick end to the rut, meaning their nadir might not have arrived yet. It is therefore a matter of ominous timing that they next contest a Merseyside derby against an Everton side surfing their win over Arsenal.
‘It needs to change,’ said Klopp, and no kidding. He went on to answer the necessary questions, including his ‘absolute’ confidence in his ability to navigate the crisis and also his faith in the raw materials of the squad.
But Klopp is also exhibiting that familiar vibe of an uncomfortable manager, best seen when he refused to accept questions from a reporter who has covered Liverpool for more than a decade. Testy exchanges with journalists are nothing new, and nor are they a problem in isolation, but the episode played to the general theme of dishevelment.
As it stands, the only hope for Klopp’s season is the Champions League, with the attached pressure that they are unlikely to get back there via the top four in the Premier League. The challenge around the bigger picture was put to goalkeeper Alisson.
‘We have to think of the next games, that’s what we have in our hands,’ he said. ‘We are not in a position to think too much about what we can do at the end of the season, we have to think about what we can do better now and to win the next game that is in front of us.’
Far easier said than done currently.
Ruben Neves added Wolves’ third goal in their win against Liverpool after a Joe Gomez mistake
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