DOMINIC KING: Salah is at his lowest Liverpool ebb, injuries to key stars Diaz and Alexander-Arnold have hit squad hard and summer transfer failures linger… how it’s all going wrong for the Reds ahead of their crunch clash with rivals Man City
- Liverpool’s clash with Manchester City will have a different feel this weekend
- The Reds are reeling from an indifferent start to the season and a long injury list
- Mohamed Salah has been unable to recapture his blistering form of last season
- Jurgen Klopp’s side are unable to cope with the effects of a weakened midfield
- Liverpool’s failure to capture a marquee midfield signing has hampered the club
The countdown has started to what should be regarded as the biggest game of the season but the mood on Merseyside is not befitting the fixture.
Liverpool against Manchester City has carried the billing of ‘title decider’ for the last five years and more often than not, particularly at Anfield, it has provided a platform for Jurgen Klopp’s men to show themselves to be upwardly mobile.
It won’t be the case this Sunday. Liverpool are moving like a long-distance runner whose reserves have emptied and is falling back through the field, unable to maintain the gallop. Sportsmail assesses what is going wrong.
Jurgen Klopp goes face to face with Pep Guardiola but the stakes are very different this time
There may come a point in the future when Liverpool’s achievements under Klopp — and how much they pushed City — will be looked at as a miracle. At the end of last season, City’s points total from August 2018 was 358, Liverpool’s was 357.
The effort to keep churning out results and the mental strain of constantly walking on a tightrope were going to take a toll somewhere and perhaps Ilkay Gundogan’s 81st-minute goal against Aston Villa on May 22 was the moment that City finally broke Liverpool’s spirit.
Anfield is famous for its atmosphere but things have not been the same since they missed out on the title five months ago. Liverpool have not produced a performance since then of the calibre people have come to expect.
It feels as if the belief for which they were famed under Klopp has evaporated and it was telling to see gaps in the away end at the Emirates on Sunday as they tried to scramble an equaliser against Arsenal. Fans aren’t staying to the end and that is highly significant.
Darwin Nunez is a raw talent and has shown enough for Liverpool to see why he was pursued by so many clubs. Calvin Ramsay and Fabio Carvalho are two highly regarded young players, who will learn and develop and are exactly the kind of talents with whom Klopp loves to work.
Darwin Nunez has endured a difficult start at Anfield but has recently shown signs of promise
Nothing will change the fact, however, that Liverpool wanted to sign an imposing midfielder in the summer and the one they were after was Aurelien Tchouameni, the France international who went to Real Madrid in June. Liverpool were desperate to bring him to Merseyside.
As far back as April, Liverpool had made plays to convince Tchouameni that Anfield was the place for him to continue his development.
There is no guarantee that he would have been an instant success but it was telling that Klopp knew his engine room needed bolstering.
Jude Bellingham remains a target for Liverpool but he may not hold all the answers for the Reds
Jude Bellingham remains a prime target for next summer but things change quickly in football. Bad results won’t enhance Liverpool’s appeal. Bellingham might be some fans’ idea of a saviour but Liverpool are going to need another three midfielders at least next summer, with Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner out of contract. Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, must be prepared to invest.
This topic carries great symbolism right now because when City came to Anfield last October, the Egyptian was the world’s most in-form forward and his goal in the 2-2 draw was one of the best the stadium has seen. The clamour for him to be rewarded with a new contract back then was huge.
Mohamed Salah has lost his spark in front of goal and hasn’t scored in the league since August
Now, however, he is in arguably his most difficult spell across five years at Liverpool. His last league goal was on August 22 at Manchester United and he no longer inspires the feeling that he used to, the one that every time he got the ball at his feet he would score.
It would be a nonsense to say he is in terminal decline — Klopp started howling with laughter last Friday when it was suggested that, having reached 30, he might start slowing down — but this lull cannot continue, particularly after the bumper deal he signed in the summer.
Salah, like his team, has endured some mental anguish through 2022 — when he scored against Wolves on the final day, he thought that 84th-minute strike had delivered the title, unaware of the score at City — but he cannot stay on the periphery of games, as was the case against Arsenal.
As someone who puts such stock in personal achievement, you do wonder, too, what effect it has had falling out of the race for the Golden Boot behind runaway leader Erling Haaland.
Sunday would be the perfect time for him to strike back.
There is no escaping the fact that fitness problems have been detrimental and the last few days have been especially demoralising, with Arthur Melo, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Luis Diaz joining the casualty list.
Liverpool’s injury list continues to grow with Trent Alexander-Arnold limping off on Sunday
Luis Diaz also picked up an injury at the Emirates at will be sidelined until after the World Cup
At one point, Klopp was without 10 senior players and for a manager who is meticulous on the training ground, in terms of the sessions he puts on and the demands he expects from his squad, such a situation has been chaotic.
Nothing has felt right around Liverpool for the last three months and, perhaps, that Community Shield win over City in July was the worst result of all, as it made everyone think everything would be fine. A week later at Fulham, Alexander-Arnold made a mistake after 45 seconds and Liverpool have been on the back foot ever since.
In that time, they have seen City move out of their view. Come Sunday evening, Guardiola and his squad may have disappeared over the horizon completely.
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