EPL

Klopp crisis: Liverpool boss at make-or-break stage as eight-game run could define his future

By Sports Desk February 10, 2023

In one sense, Jurgen Klopp can rest easy: his Liverpool legacy won't be defined by this aberration of a season.

He will always be the manager that returned the Reds to the summit of English football as Premier League champions, with a Champions League title cementing his place in club legend.

Last season almost saw Klopp lead Liverpool to a sensational quadruple, but 2022-23 is proving a sorry sop of a campaign.

Seven and a half years into his reign, Klopp might be surviving on goodwill at present. Fortunately for the former Borussia Dortmund boss, that is in abundant supply, but this drifting ship needs to be turned around and he knows it.

Here's the crux: Liverpool have played seven games in 2023 and made a wretched mess of most of them. They have won only once, and now an eight-game run lies ahead of them that looks critical to their hopes of salvaging anything from the season.

Unless Klopp's team perk up their ideas during this run, the manager might consider walking away. Perhaps he might even be pushed. That sounds like wild talk, given all he has achieved, but Liverpool are going backwards at an alarming rate.

Ahead of Monday's derby against Everton, Stats Perform looks at this unfolding crisis.

What's the state of play?

It's grizzly. Liverpool sit 10th in the Premier League after 20 games and have been eliminated from the FA Cup and EFL Cup, knockout competitions they won last season.

They came through the Champions League group stage, but Real Madrid stand in their way of going any further. Madrid, remember, beat Liverpool in last season's final, and while Carlo Ancelotti's team are certainly not firing on all cylinders this season, they sit second in LaLiga.

Klopp's mood has unsurprisingly not been as buoyant as in previous campaigns, and the crotchety way he has dealt with some reasonable questions from reporters of late has pointed to the strain this might all be taking.

He might turn this all around of course, as six months of underachievement does not undo all his previous work, but football is a results business and the FSG owners expect the club to be performing on and off the field.

There is a sense of gloom about Liverpool, defeats to the likes of Brighton and Hove Albion and Wolves no longer comes as surprises, and something has to change sharpish.

Stats Perform AI gives them just a 15.6 per cent chance of finishing in the top four. They are likelier to finish in eighth or ninth place (a combined 16.6 per cent), according to that data modelling.

Can Klopp rise again?

Liverpool are winless in their four Premier League games so far in 2023 (D1 L3), and have scored just once. They have only endured a longer winless run at the start of a calendar year once in the Premier League era – a five-game stretch in 2017 (D3 L2).

They turned it around that time and won nine of their next 14 league games (D3 L2) to secure a fourth-placed finish, but such lofty heights look beyond them this season. Those competing for the Champions League places are all in a healthy state, and Liverpool are spluttering like a sick hound.

Winning the Champions League looks like the only route for Liverpool to get back into UEFA's most lucrative club competition next season. Winning the Champions League also looks a million miles beyond them.

A reset of some sort is needed, and implementing that in the middle of the season is desperately difficult.

Fellow mid-table toilers Chelsea have brought in a mental skills expert from the New Zealand rugby team, in the hope he will coax the best out of a talented group, and Liverpool might also consider a jolt from an outside influence.

Liverpool's next eight games are treacherous. After Everton, they travel to fourth-placed Newcastle United, and then comes the Anfield first leg against Madrid.

Four Premier League games follow, with trips to Crystal Palace and Bournemouth sandwiching home games against Wolves and Manchester United. Then comes the Madrid second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If Klopp picks up a good handful of Premier League wins and gets past Madrid, it's happy days again. But if not...

If Klopp goes, then who comes in?

Every sturdy operation needs a succession plan in mind, in boom times and bad, so Liverpool will have firm ideas about the type of manager they would be targeting next.

When they hired Klopp in October 2015, he was unmistakably a rising star of the coaching world, a two-time Bundesliga winner and a Champions League runner-up. Many clubs had looked at him, and Liverpool's decision to take the plunge paid off handsomely.

There are certain names that spring to mind when it comes to out-of-work bosses who could fancy Liverpool: Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Enrique. Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone might be seeking a fresh start at the end of this season.

Then there are the Liverpool favourites who have dipped a toe into coaching but would only be contenders on a wing and a prayer: Xabi Alonso and former Reds captain Steven Gerrard.

Klopp's assistant Pep Lijnders might enter the conversation, too, if a change happens.

Yet maybe Liverpool will be seeking a figure more in the 2015 Klopp mould, a coach on the rise who can point to experience and success, and precious few scars.

Roberto De Zerbi at Brighton has beaten Liverpool twice this year, while Brentford's Thomas Frank dished out a 3-1 defeat to the Reds, and their respective sides sit sixth and seventh.

Eddie Howe at Newcastle is probably out of reach, and that factor alone puts Liverpool's decline into black and white.

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