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Can Klopp be arsed with dragging Liverpool back up the mountain? They need the next Van Dijk…

Jurgen Klopp retains trust in the players that delivered success and glory for Liverpool but that was the past; he must look to the future.

 

When you have been in charge of a superb, title-winning team full of great players, it must be hard to admit to yourself that many of those same players are no longer quite as good as they were and the ones you have brought in are not quite up to your highest standards.

The temptation must be to think you can get the old, successful band back together and play the greatest hits for one last tour; the reality is that while they will show flashes of that form, overall they’re just not as good as they were.

That is where Jurgen Klopp finds his Liverpool squad. While injuries have been significant, many of the old-timers are just not at the level they used to be. Age has diminished their abilities to play the high speed, high-pressing game.

There’s no point in pretending they will consistently recover their old standard. It won’t happen. Klopp’s great achievement was to get everyone to peak at the same time and in doing so Liverpool won the two biggest titles available to win. But when you’ve peaked, you can only go down.

As we know, in these hysterical times, you’re either brilliant or you’re rubbish, but Liverpool are neither. It’s not that everyone is playing badly, nor that they are unable to play great football at times. It’s not even that they have stopped being entertaining. But even a 10 per cent fall off of form in certain positions stops the machine working as efficiently and successfully as was once the case.

The title-winning side would’ve beaten Leeds United 7-1 even if they had gifted them a goal. But that was then – that’s not now.

The spine of the side is just worse than it once was. The loss of Sadio Mane has been profound. His replacement, Darwin Nunez, is a worse player. The days of Virgil van Dijk never being beaten are long gone – players seem to stroll past him these days. Joe Gomez and his Amish-inspired beard is probably lucky to be getting a game at all. Jordan Henderson doesn’t have the legs to get up and down any more. Even Mo Salah, as brilliant as he is, looks five per cent off it. Of the Reds’ spine only Alisson in goal has maintained his superb form.

It’s not the end of the world. Liverpool can still expect a top-six finish and they still have two of the best full/wing-backs in world football. But to climb back to the top of the tree requires some serious surgery and that has to be really hard for the manager to stomach when so many players have served him so well and led the club to success in the past. That’s why there is seventh season doubt about Klopp’s future.

Has he got the ruthless streak needed to cut out the failing spine and replace it with something younger and better?

Or would it be easier to call it a day and bow out before the sun completely sets on the glory days?

Hanging on in the hope that things will improve must always be the temptation, but the one thing to be learned from all those Lord Ferg years of permanent revolution at Manchester United is to be ruthless in chucking out those who are on a downward curve before they become a burden. Even then, fans protested that the Scot was dumping excellent players – and he often was, but for the greater good.

Football can be a very conservative culture where everyone hangs onto nurse for fear of something worse, a culture that looks backwards too much and forwards not enough. We all remember being awestruck at how Van Dijk could defend a high line all on his own, purring around the pitch like a finely-tuned piston engine. But again, that was then, that’s not now. Now, Liverpool need the next Van Dijk.

The squad is one of the oldest in the Premier League. That in itself is a red flag for being over-the-hill, even though the likes of Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliot offer hope for the future. There is much to enjoy about James Milner’s performances but it all seems a bit desperate to have to play him at all.

The tricky thing is to let go of players who are still really good, but not quite good enough most of the time. You are wide open for criticism if your replacements are inferior, so recruitment has to be almost flawless. Losing Mane already looks like an insane decision. When you see Nunez stumbling over his own feet in the penalty box, you cannot help but think if it was Mane, it would’ve been a goal.

It is sad for neutrals who have relished Liverpool’s fabulously adventurous swashbuckling style of recent years but it is also inevitable because nothing lasts forever and whether it is a long, slow decline or a fall-off-a-cliff disaster, Liverpool need a substantial overhaul of the first team and a bulking up of the quality of the squad.

Is Klopp the man to do that? It will take money, of course, but recruitment is not just about spending big; as the purchase of Andy Robertson proved, it’s about finding the right player. Can Klopp be arsed with all of that again?

When you’ve already climbed the highest mountain, do you want to have to go back to base camp and start all over again? It seems unlikely. There’s no future in the past, but when your past has been so good, it must be tempting to believe there is.

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