Liverpool at a critical point
Jurgen Klopp’s 300th game as Liverpool manager won’t live long in the memory.
Or rather, he won’t want it to.
But how the Reds get themselves back on track now after a shocking run rests on their response to this damaging, dispiriting defeat.
The big question now – and it is one that could define whether they are still inside that top four at the end of this season – is can they learn their lesson?
Can they learn to once more deal with setbacks in the manner that once saw Klopp label them “the mentality monsters”.
For the second game in succession, Liverpool were the architects of their own downfall, throwing away what they held in stunning fashion.
After Mohamed Salah’s 17th goal of the season had given the Reds the lead, they were jolted back into parity by James Maddison, who profited from the confusion of two lengthy checks with the VAR in quick succession.
The stoppages seemed to leave the visitors in a daze. It would be one they would not recover from.
But if the Reds felt aggrieved by the decision to rule Daniel Amartey onside for Maddison’s goal, they did little to use the injustice as fuel for the fire.
Instead, those once-famed monsters turned to mice and Leicester pounced on their frailties.
And they are now fixating on fourth only as a result.
Failure to squeeze into that spot will have ramifications that will last for years, given Fenway Sports Group are unlikely to break from the ownership model that has served them well for over a decade.
Make no mistake, Liverpool need the riches of the Champions League if they are to make sure they are fighting once more for the biggest prizes in the game next season.
A critical point has now been reached.
And if that sounds dramatic, try to picture a scenario where Liverpool are on the outside looking in when European football’s premier competition resumes next season after being unable to significantly add to their squad in the summer window.
It was the sort of goal that didn’t deserve to be a mere consolation.
But Mohamed Salah’s 23rd of yet another fruitful campaign was one of his best yet.
A first-time cushioned pass into the corner gave goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel no chance.
A lot of it was down to the exceptional piece of skill from Roberto Firmino that allowed Salah to side foot Liverpool into the lead, but the cool nature of the finish was indicative of a world-class forward operating at his peak.
Liverpool’s stumbles are ongoing but for the second away game in a row, another stunning Salah contribution laid bare how imperative he is to what Klopp is trying to achieve at Anfield.
Salah, it would appear, has been making tentative noises surrounding his contract situation at Anfield of late, revealing in December and again in January about his desire to stay at the club who helped make him an elite star for a long time to come.
Even Dejan Lovren, a player who was one of his best friends at Anfield, appeared to hint as much over earlier this week when he suggested that “there needs to be love from both ways” regarding Salah and Liverpool’s future together.
The club may feel they have more pressing concerns on that front, given that Salah’s deal still has two-and-a-half years left to run, but it would be remiss of the Reds not to give the situation some serious thought in the coming months.
Can they really afford not to?
Thiago’s best days await
Thiago Alcantara is probably as baffled as anyone.
After signing for the runaway Premier League champions in September, fresh from winning his second Champions League just a few weeks earlier, the Spanish star might have expected a more serene opening to life as a Liverpool player.
Instead, his arrival – one that was stunted by COVID-19 and injury issues – has coincided with Liverpool entering free fall.
It will be over five months since the Reds signed Thiago when Everton are entertained next Saturday evening.
And he will still be awaiting his first win at Anfield when the game kicks off at 5.30pm.
The former Barcelona playmaker, in fact, has only featured in four all season, and one of those was off the bench against an Aston Villa academy side in the FA Cup.
It would be wrong to suggest that is solely down to the player, of course, with his return to action just happening to come at a time when Liverpool, as a collective, started to run on empty.
Get all the latest Liverpool breaking news, team news, transfer rumours, injury updates plus analysis of what’s next for the Reds.
You’ll also get the latest transfer talk and analysis straight to your inbox every day with our FREE email newsletter.
But there can be few denials that the 29-year-old hasn’t adjusted as seamlessly as many had anticipated when he seared in the heat of the midfield battle at Goodison Park back on October 17.
Arriving late into the fray before struggling to make a telling impact and looking strangely cumbersome out of possession, Thiago’s performance at the King Power summed up his season so far with the Reds.
Perhaps there will come to be an acceptance in the coming weeks that Thiago’s best will not be seen in a red shirt until next season?
By then, with some good fortune, Liverpool will be able to boast the return of their usual midfield and Thiago will have had the benefit of a full pre-season working on just how Klopp wants his engine room to tick.