Liverpool need more than Jude Bellingham to unpick this mess

Jurgen Klopp looked at a loss to explain what happened during the 4-1 defeat at Man City - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill
Jurgen Klopp looked at a loss to explain what happened during the 4-1 defeat at Man City - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Forget the battering in Brighton, the bruising by Bournemouth and the walloping in Wolverhampton. Liverpool’s mauling in Manchester was the nadir in Jurgen Klopp’s lamentable season.

This was the afternoon when his so-called mentality monsters looked more like the Kop Spice Boys of the mid-1990s; untrustworthy, flaky, high on promise, low on substance, and leaving their global fanbase dreaming of the missing pieces which will supposedly make next season better.

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Anyone can lose to Manchester City in the mood they were in on Saturday. Etihad regulars purred that the 4-1 win ranked among the most complete performances of the Pep Guardiola era, and Jack Grealish has never looked so smart in sky blue.

Liverpool currently possess neither the conditioning, nor players to go toe-to-toe with City on this form. Even when Klopp’s side were level it was like watching them try to play the famed ‘heavy metal football’ on George Formby’s ukulele.

The lingering, damning and increasingly regular question is why Liverpool and City now seem to be operating in a different weight division?

As against Real Madrid during their meek Champions League exit, Klopp said the opposition’s quality cannot be disregarded when assessing the margin of defeat.

It's the manner of the defeats to Manchester City and Real Madrid that will really worry Klopp - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt
It's the manner of the defeats to Manchester City and Real Madrid that will really worry Klopp - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

Great Liverpool teams, including those built by Klopp, have lost to these clubs. There is usually no shame in it. But being outclassed within close proximity symbolises the depth to which Liverpool have sunk in unfathomably rapid time. Having waited so many years to close what once looked an impregnable gap to the wealthiest and most powerful teams in England and Europe, Liverpool have regressed to where they were when Klopp took over. That makes the one-sided defeats to the teams which denied Liverpool a quadruple less than a year ago the most deflating of the campaign.


While plenty of mitigating factors have been presented as a means of explaining the decline - many of them worthy of a sympathetic hearing - recurring unattractive traits are inexcusable.

There was a time not-so-long ago when Klopp’s players came off the pitch so exhausted they fell into his arms like marathon runners who had just clocked a personal best.

There was a time when no matter what the outcome, opponents felt as though they had to deliver a career-defining performance to beat Klopp’s side, Liverpool’s capacity to besiege the opposition guaranteeing every duel resembled Rocky versus Apollo Creed.

And there was a time when even if Liverpool were trailing in injury time, the opposition was so nervous of conceding under immense pressure, they generally did.


Where has that Liverpool gone?

The senior players' lack of resolve means every mid-game setback is greeted like a game-ending calamity, precipitating a defensive collapse and incomprehensible lack of application. It will not wash to keep citing a shortened pre-season, disrupted conditioning due to the November World Cup, or even the now widely accepted conclusion that Liverpool went into this campaign a top-class midfielder light.

Real Madrid’s and City’s players have endured the same exertions, albeit they seem to have two world class players for each position. It didn't stop Grealish tracking back to prevent Mohamed Salah teeing up Diogo Jota at one end 30 seconds before creating City's equaliser at the other, the perfect representation of the kind of tireless running Klopp could once take for granted from his players.

Mohamed Salah and Liverpool players - Reuters/Carl Recine
Mohamed Salah and Liverpool players - Reuters/Carl Recine

Even injuries to key personnel - undoubtedly a factor in Liverpool struggling to finish in the top four or match the class of the high fliers such as City - cannot explain all the lame defeats to clubs in the relegation fight.


The contradiction between a team which would be third based on home form and that which has collected fewer points than Leicester City and Southampton on the road will perturb Klopp. There have been so many clear-the-air talks at the AXA training ground recently, he may as well work them into his schedule after each away trip.

There are hints that even Klopp is confused about the root of the problem, or to be charitable feels unable to speak candidly about the extent of his concern in signalling how he will remedy it. His public pronouncements have had a little something for everyone, occasionally implying significant changes are afoot but then rolling back to suggest the core of his preferred starting XI will remain intact.

The Liverpool manager is obviously working within certain parameters. He has neither the money, nor inclination, to oversee a complete clear-out before next season, and in any case his rebuild began when the likes of Luis Diaz, Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez and Ibrahima Konate were recruited.

He must have serious doubts as to whether only one or two more additions will change the situation, however.


The idea that all Klopp has to do is plant Jude Bellingham in his midfield and all the defects will be eradicated is as delusional as believing the team of the mid-90s would be transformed once Paul Ince signed.

Realistically, Liverpool have the next two games - away at Chelsea and home to Arsenal - to keep top-four hopes intact. Beyond that, Klopp's job this summer is as big as it was when he signed his first Anfield contract.

Klopp said pre-match he considered a 19-point gap between Liverpool and City unrepresentative. He was right. The twenty-two it was extended to is a much fairer representation of how much catching up Liverpool must do.