There’s a rebuild looming at Liverpool, whose disappointing campaign has left Jurgen Klopp’s side facing the prospect of an absence from the Champions League next season.
Liverpool won a domestic cup double and chased a historic quadruple into the final weeks of last season, but the current campaign has been challenging and leaves the Reds facing a sizeable task to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Major changes are expected in the summer transfer window, with the Reds needing a refresh as stalwarts of the success under Klopp have struggled for form this season.
Here are five Liverpool stalwarts whose form has fallen off a cliff this season.
Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk has been arguably the pillar on which Jurgen Klopp’s successful side was built, a transformative arrival that provided presence at the back. His struggles this season have symbolised those of the side, a once great performer unable to find the levels of past campaigns.
The Dutch defender’s season began with an uneasy opening weekend at Fulham, in which Aleksandar Mitrovic dominated their duel and gave Van Dijk a torrid time. From there little has improved, with Van Dijk appearing a shadow of the centre-back who until recently commanded a largely unchallenged status as the Premier League’s best defender.
The Dutchman remains dominant in the air and is expansive with his passing from the back. However, the relaxed brand of defending once hailed for being effortless has been exposed this season and the pundits who once purred over his performances have been quick to criticise.
The 31-year-old has set such standards that the drastic drop in performance is as unexplainable as it has been unexpected. The aura he once carried has all but been removed, with Premier League forwards encouraged to engage when they would have once retreated.
The challenge now for Van Dijk is to prove that his performances this season are more of a blip than signs of genuine decline. If it is the latter, Liverpool will face an almighty task to replace the role he has had on this side in recent campaigns.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s role at Liverpool has been scrutinised more than ever before this season.
The right-back has recorded unprecedented returns in terms of creativity in recent campaigns, setting assist records from full-back. Despite limitations defensively, the positives have far outweighed the negatives when it comes to Alexander-Arnold at Anfield.
For much of this season however, that has not been the case.
The breakdown of this Liverpool team is multifaceted, from the decline of the club’s press to a midfield which lacks the legs to meet Klopp’s demands. Each have had a major impact on Alexander-Arnold, who has spent much more time on the back-foot this season – a situation which has seen his weaknesses exposed.
This isn’t good enough. We need to do better, and we will. pic.twitter.com/zQIX1rzIqu
— Trent Alexander-Arnold (@TrentAA) January 14, 2023
The 24-year-old is not a natural defender, far more comfortable striding forward in possession than he is attempting to regain it. But this should not serve as an excuse. There is a lack of intensity with Alexander-Arnold when it comes to defending and an all-too-often habit of switching off when danger looms. The casual demeanour which has made the right-back great going forward has routinely been to Liverpool’s detriment defensively.
Alexander-Arnold’s upside is not in question, even if his output has drastically dropped in terms of tangible assists this season, but Klopp must find a method to bring the best from him without leaving Liverpool vulnerable. It is a balance he has not mastered during the current campaign.
Fabinho’s form has been one of the great mysteries of Liverpool’s season, with the Brazilian having appeared to be in alarming decline. Fabinho was once among the first names on the team sheet for Liverpool, an authoritative midfield presence who screened the back four as well as any footballer in Europe.
This season he has looked off the pace and leggy, a second (or several) slower to the challenges he once crashed into with routine.
Jurgen Klopp and his recruitment staff will have been well aware a midfield overhaul was required last summer, with Jordan Henderson, Thiago and James Milner into their thirties and Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain heading towards free transfer exits. Fabinho would not have been at the forefront of those plans to be replaced, but a season of lethargic performances might have altered the thinking at Anfield.
For much of the campaign he has appeared past his best, a strange sight given he will not turn 30 until October. Fabinho at his best dominated duels and won the ball back with intensity at the base of the midfield. He has done neither of those things this season.
Joel Matip has been one of the under-appreciated parts of Jurgen Klopp’s side, a centre-back who impressed in the shadow of the aforementioned Van Dijk.
Matip has proven a fine compliment for Van Dijk in recent campaigns, a defender who is comfortable carrying the ball into midfield and he impressed as Liverpool chased a quadruple this season.
If last season – in which he made 43 appearances and largely remained injury-free – had been his best in a red shirt, then this has been his worst. The Cameroonian has looked out-of-form, low on confidence and vulnerable to opposition attacks, invoking a sense of panic whenever the ball approaches the penalty area.
Matip will turn 32 before next season and is contracted until 2024, with now perhaps an ideal time for Liverpool to cash in on a defender who has been a fine servant since his arrival on a free transfer from Schalke seven years ago.
Has time caught up with Liverpool’s captain?
Henderson is another who has provided exceptional service across a long Liverpool career, but the midfielder has failed to impact games in the manner he once did.
The 32-year-old was often the heart of Liverpool’s most energetic performances, with his hard-running epitomising the relentlessness of Klopp’s side. As the legs have slowed his impact has lessened, unable to complete the lung-busting runs of old.
Jordan Henderson makes his 350th Premier League appearance for Liverpool this evening! 👏 pic.twitter.com/KLnyPORmXu
— 90min (@90min_Football) April 4, 2023
There might be a role for Henderson next season, in terms of his leadership and setting of standards, but if Liverpool are to return to their former levels under Klopp his time as a first-team fixture appears over. He has been written off before and come back, but the miles in the legs appear to have taken their toll.
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(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)