What an absolutely disastrous start to 2021 it’s been for Liverpool.
The Reds knew they were in for a tough ride in defending their Premier League crown, but they have completely thrown in the towel on retaining their crown for another year. And Saturday’s limp 2-0 defeat to Everton in the Merseyside derby is the worst result of the lot.
Jurgen Klopp’s men never looked like scoring against Carlo Ancelotti’s Toffees, coming unstuck in the final third time and time again, while gifting Everton opportunities with slack marking at the back. Terrible in attack, worse in defence, and an idea vacuum in the midfield – it was as bad as it gets.
Liverpool would have talked in the dressing room about starting confidently and enforcing their style and command on the game, but that all went out of the window after only two minutes, when the defence was split by one simple (albeit beautiful) pass from James Rodriguez.
Richarlison nipped in behind and buried the first chance of the game, leaving the Reds with it all to do, but with a tenth of the self-belief with which they had stepped onto the field. From that moment on, it was mind-numbing chaos.
The midfield was terrified of attempting a brave pass over the top or between the lines, and Thiago Alcantara cut the figure of a man who had spent far too much time in the presence of workmanlike and unspectacular colleagues.
The Spaniard was a particular disappointment in the centre of the pitch, unable – or unwilling – to take a risk and split the defence as James had achieved in less than 120 seconds. Curtis Jones struggled to make a mark on the game, rarely escaping Andre Gomes’ ruthless glare.
Behind the midfield trio, pandemonium was unfolding. Ozan Kabak had already been caught on the balls of his feet for the first goal, and he continued to suffer a hate-hate affair with lofted passes over his head.
The Turk misjudged the trajectory and bounce on countless occasions, and could have been punished far more severely, had Richarlison been in a more clinical mood. Centre-back partner Jordan Henderson suffered the frustration of falling to the Liverpool injury curse, and was subbed with a muscle problem in the first half.
When it’s not going your way…
And then there were the forwards. The cohesion between the front three was non-existent, while Mohamed Salah’s constant theatrics and Sadio Mane’s berating of the officials told the story of a team completely bereft of ideas and spirit.
When those two are off form, Roberto Firmino looks even more out of place and ineffective in that trident. The Reds’ best chance of the game fell to Salah, but Jordan Pickford charged him down and smothered his path to goal, and that was the last real hope in the match.
Another simple ball wreaked havoc in the Liverpool backline, and Calvert-Lewin raced through and forced a smart save from Alisson, but saw his path to goal blocked by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Gylfi Sigurdsson did the rest, and it was party time for the Toffees, who earned their first win over the Reds in 24 attempts, and condemned Klopp and co. to their fourth consecutive league defeat.
It was as bad a performance as you could ever imagine – and in a derby? Unthinkable.
Since the turn of the year, Liverpool have lost six league matches, and now sit sixth in the table, 16 points behind leaders Manchester City – who also hold a game in hand.
In terms of even the faintest of title defence dreams – forget about it. It’s as good as over. For Liverpool, there is no time to wallow in self pity and the despair of a shock Merseyside defeat.
Champions League football is on the line for next season, and failure to clinch a top-four spot could undo so much of the hard work they have put in over the past six years under Klopp. If they need inspiration or motivation, this is it. You’re fighting to save your legacy – play like it.