Ageing squad with injuries and fatigue – Liverpool’s problems this season

Liverpool’s struggles continue as their defence of a second trophy ended prematurely with defeat to Brighton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

While the loss – to an added-time goal – was nowhere near as bad as their performance against the Seagulls in the Premier League a fortnight ago it contributed to the inconsistency which has dogged the team all season.

Manager Jurgen Klopp’s side have already lost six times in the league – after being beaten only four times in 63 games in all competitions last term – and are 10 points adrift of the top four.

Here the PA news agency looks at what has contributed to the malaise.

Why are Liverpool struggling so much?

Virgil van Dijk
The loss of Virgil van Dijk has been a blow for Liverpool (Nick Potts/PA)

A simple question with a multi-faceted answer. A number of factors have contrived to create the current situation the most testing Klopp has faced in his time at Anfield. The manager will point to injuries: he had four forwards missing at Brighton – two long-term absentees in Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino – as well as influential centre-back Virgil van Dijk. However, the squad is starting to show its age and the new forwards brought in are still acclimatising, which has placed more pressure on Mohamed Salah who is enduring a poor run of form.

Is that just unlucky or are there underlying issues?

Fatigue, both physical and mental, has also played a part. Klopp finally earlier this month admitted the 63-game 2021/22 season which saw Liverpool win two cups, almost lift the Premier League and Champions League, and play in every match for which they were eligible has impacted his squad. Midfielder Thiago Alcantara recently said there was also a psychological impact after coming so close to an unprecedented quadruple.

Fatigue? Low on energy? How come?

Liverpool midfielder Fabinho battles with Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendia
Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho are two of Liverpool’s three senior statesmen in midfield (David Davies/PA)

Well, off the back of Liverpool’s marathon previous season Klopp’s first-choice midfield – Jordan Henderson (32), Thiago Alcantara (31) and Fabinho (29) – has a combined age of 92. That has proved ineffectual and for the last three games he has paired the more energetic 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic and Naby Keita with Thiago and been rewarded with better performances. Of the alternatives James Milner is 37, Curtis Jones has missed a lot of the campaign with injury while youngster Harvey Elliott has struggled in an under-performing team.

So why has Klopp not freshened up his squad?

Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is expected to be Liverpool’s primary summer target (Tim Goode/PA)

In one word: money. Owners Fenway Sports Group found £38million to bring in PSV forward Cody Gakpo this month even though he was a longer-range target because they wanted to fend off interest from other clubs. Klopp wanted Aurelien Tchouameni to bolster his midfield but the France international chose Real Madrid in the summer. Midfield remains the area in real need of attention and the suspicion is FSG is budgeting for a break-the-bank deal for Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, while Wolves’ Matheus Nunes is also of interest.

What can Klopp do then?

Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita runs away from Red Bull Salzburg’s Maximilian Wober
Naby Keita has to stay fit if he wants a run in the team (John Walton/PA)

Having ruled out making any more signings this window it looks like he will have to muddle through. Getting forwards Firmino and Jota – both of whom are expected to return in time for next month’s Champions League tie with Real Madrid – will help, while Van Dijk is also due back soon. His changes in midfield have made a difference and he is likely to keep faith with that decision, especially considering Fabinho’s dreadful cameo off the bench at Brighton.

What is the short-term fix to their general problems?

Finding a way not to be so defensively fragile would be a start. Liverpool have conceded the first goal 21 times in their last 38 matches and the clean sheet against Chelsea just over a week ago was their first in the Premier League since October. That is another issue which can be traced to their midfield deficiencies, but they have looked so open at the back opposition teams know they will always get chances. Finding a way to get Salah and Darwin Nunez, both on one goal in seven, back on track would ease some of the pressure on Gakpo.