Liverpool did not miss the opportunity this week to highlight the fact that their latest set of record-breaking accounts – in terms of their £301.8m revenue, not their £19.8 loss – came in a year when they were the only club in Deloitte's top 10 rich list without Champions League football. As an illustration of Liverpool's continued global and commercial appeal, it was a justifiable boast. As a reflection of Jürgen Klopp's fortunes, it will mark an alarming deterioration should it reappear in the financial results for 2017-18. The prospect is growing.
Klopp conceded the Premier League title had gone before Liverpool’s last home game against Tottenham Hotspur but not so “The Holy Grail” of Champions League qualification. That quest took another detour with the lamentable defeat on Monday at a suddenly re-energised Leicester City and will be in peril should Arsenal open up a four-point advantage over Liverpool, with a game in hand, by winning at Anfield on Saturday. Arsène Wenger’s team will have to show rare big-game character to shatter Liverpool’s unbeaten record against fellow top-six clubs this season. And even that impressive return cannot comfort Klopp as it should when his side’s failures against the lesser lights are becoming routine.
The Liverpool manager invited ridicule before the Spurs game by revealing he dreamt of ending his first full season in English football with 14 consecutive league wins. "And I know how that sounds," he said after one win in 10 matches but before a comprehensive 2-0 victory that gave some credence to those dreams. What he would never say is that his players must share responsibility for a potential title challenge fading into a desperate fight for a top-four finish within 10 weeks. The thought, and perhaps the conclusion, will not have escaped him despite his decision to deploy Lucas Leiva in a high defensive line against Jamie Vardy contributing to the 3-1 defeat at the King Power Stadium.
The predictable cycle of Liverpool's results and performances in 2017 will have consequences for more than simply Daniel Sturridge should Klopp find himself this summer back at square one and needing to rejuvenate without the lure of Champions League football. Sturridge's future, the manager has confirmed, will be reviewed at the end of the campaign, as would be expected of a highly paid, high-profile England international who has started only five Premier League matches this season.
The review will go much further and range from transfer inactivity in January to tactics, squad depth and mentality if the only reward for a season of such promise is Europa League qualification.
It would be no surprise were Liverpool to rouse themselves against Arsenal but what resembled an inviting run-in when Klopp’s team swarmed to the Premier League summit in the autumn will now bring misgivings. All five of Liverpool’s league defeats have come against teams in the bottom half of the table – four of the five opponents were in the relegation zone at the start of the matchday – and six of their remaining 12 matches are against sides in the wrong half of the division. The fixture list provides an opportunity to eradicate mistakes. So far this year, Liverpool have merely repeated them.
Klopp said earlier in the campaign that he had no respect for critics of Liverpool’s defending, but one or two of them must have been correct. No team in the top eight have conceded more goals than Liverpool’s 33. Klopp and his players, despite confronting the same tactics time and again, have found no solution against opponents with a deep-lying defence and rapid counterattack, other than against Tottenham.
Six defeats in 12 matches since the turn of the year have done nothing to dispel the notion of a team being found out. The manager's denial of an attitude problem was also undermined by Liverpool's lethargic start against a Leicester side with an obvious point to prove after the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri.
Jamie Carragher said in the Sky studio last Monday that he was more concerned about Liverpool being overtaken by Everton than missing out on a top-four finish. It was more a reflection of his former club's slide than a parochial dig, with their Merseyside rivals closing the gap from 14 to five points since losing the derby to Sadio Mané's late winner on December 19th.
Liverpool were second after that impressive show of character at Goodison Park. Of all the explanations Klopp has offered for their form since – the demands of the festive schedule (on a team without European football), an offside goal at Old Trafford and cup eliminations that have darkened perceptions of an already damaging run – the impact on morale of Chelsea disappearing from view in the Premier League carries the greatest weight.
He will face another summer of trying to entice top targets without the Champions League should Liverpool allow it to affect them any longer.