Jürgen Klopp says Liverpool’s latest loss, a limp 2-0 defeat to lowly Hull, means they must accept any criticism that comes their way. While most think it's premature to judge him too harshly, questions are being asked.
There is an element of surprise to Liverpool's sudden downturn in fortunes. They ended 2016 with a crucial 1-0 win over Manchester City, which moved them four points clear of the chasing pack behind runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea. That victory capped a whirlwind year in which Klopp had turned Liverpool from a team on the periphery into bonafide title contenders. Quite an achievement.
The German boss delivered a heated dressing room dressing down at half time at the KCom Stadium on Saturday, which ignited a flicker of a reaction – but not enough to avoid yet another damaging defeat. To say Liverpool's title hopes have been dented by their Dry January and now February is something of an understatement. Marco Silva deserves a great amount of credit for the positive change he's made at Hull, but the harsh reality is that Liverpool have won just once in 10 games this calendar year – and that was against fourth-tier opposition in Plymouth Argyle. In a replay.
Defeat led to loss of temper
Klopp usually keeps his emotions in check in the dressing room, but Saturday's rare explosion of fury illustrates the growing pressure he has found himself under. And it's clear from the 49-year-old's post-match comments that he's doing a certain amount of soul-searching at the moment.
Oumar Niasse, on loan from Liverpool's rivals Everton, scored the second goal against Klopp's side on Saturday
"You cannot believe how many questions I ask myself, even when we win five or six nil," he said. "That's not a problem. I don't think I'm perfect. Things like this don't change that. I feel 100% responsible for defeats, much more than I feel for wins. It has been like this my whole life. I don't feel sorry for myself or have self-pity. I'm not like this.
"When I get up tomorrow I will only be solution-orientated. There are solutions, 100%. Now we have to change it – that's a football thing. Even though at this moment it feels really bad, it's not the biggest problem in the world. Many teams have already made mistakes and changed things. For this you have to do the right things and I'm quite confident we can do the right things."
Defensive woes continue to hamstring club
Unlike at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp is not immune to the sack at Anfield, and while the calls for him to be fired are typical of the fickle world of modern football - there's little escaping the suggestion that Liverpool's struggles are partly of his making.
A shaky defence has been the club's Achilles' heel under previous management and Klopp has failed to adequately address the problem he inherited in three transfer windows. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet earned Liverpool a point with a fine penalty save from Chelsea's Diego Costa recently, but is clearly not consistent enough to be Liverpool's No.1. The Belgian's main competition, Lorius Karius, has struggled to adapt since moving from Mainz. There are also a few square pegs in round holes, namely James Milner at left-back.
Critics have also rightly pointed to Klopp's insistence on playing a weakened team in the FA Cup. He tempted fate against Plymouth and fate complied in the next round against Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-1 victors at Anfield. With Liverpool also exiting the League Cup in January and faltering in the league, Klopp's decision not to go for broke in their last realistic hope of a trophy perplexed many fans.
Problems of motivation?
Liverpool's best results throughout the bad run have been against their toughest opponents, Manchester United and Chelsea, which calls into question Klopp's ability to stave off complacency and his ability to handle the pressure of being favorites. While the stats show that Liverpool are, on average, covering more ground in games now than during their purple patch, that implies they're actually chasing the ball rather than dictating games.
The high intensity style that Klopp demands can take its toll in a country where games come thick and fast, as seen during Mauricio Pochettino's first season at Tottenham Hotspur in 2014/15, when his demanding regime left his players visibly exhausted. They finally adapted to the Argentine's demands and Spurs are now reaping the rewards, and it's Tottenham who face Liverpool this Saturday at Anfield.
Klopp has made mistakes and Liverpool can only hope he learns from them – but before those Liverpool fans call for his head, they should remember where the club was in October 2015 when he took over, and just how far they have come.