The story of Liverpool FC’s wild, thrillingly committed Premier League collapse has been told mainly in numbers so far. And to good effect. Deprived of crowds, staging or a wider emotional palette, that basic outline – 38 points down on last year; 68 home games unbeaten versus six defeats in six – has captured the starkness of a complete sporting immolation. This is a train that has simply stopped.
Better to burn out than fade away, and it has to be said no one has ever won and then lost the Premier League title quite like this. It is easy to forget that 14 games and nine wins into the current season Liverpool were five points clear at the top of the table.
After which, the meltdown. The next 14 have brought three wins and eight losses. Thirty-six goals in the first 14 games has shrunk to just 11 in the second. Jordan Henderson hadn’t lost in the league at Anfield since January 2017. In February he played in three defeats in three weeks. What kind of team does this? And more to the point, why?
Over time the wider details of exactly what happened here will emerge. Our 12-volume Warren report awaits. What we have so far are ground-zero stills, our own live rolling Zapruder footage.
One thing does stand out. A brilliant team built out of Jürgen Klopp’s own restless energy have come to resemble a band of hollow men limping from stage to stage, but the manager has been more or less silent on the causes. Instead he has looked uneasy, an ancient mariner stalking the fringes – a little haunted and hollow-eyed, but passing for now on the discharge of blame. This is significant in its own right. Klopp analyses, and overanalyses. He will have his own very clear version of events. But right now he just isn’t telling.
With good reason, too. Not just because Klopp is a fundamentally decent man, not naturally inclined to burn it all down in the hope of preserving his own reputation. But this is also a story that points into some difficult areas. It has been tempting to look for intangible causes, some kind of dark magic at play. In dank corners of the internet it has been suggested that ending that 30-year wait for a title has brought its own ill wind, strange humours, some kind of avenging emotional payback.
In reality this has been a matter of structure and planning, of cause and effect. This was always a project built on the finest margins, a pared-back punkish setup, a team built to play in a way that would eventually stretch them to the edge of their own capacities. Not to mention a team built to feed on the synergy with their home crowd, and to chase the grail of another league title. What happens when both those things are wiped away at a stroke? Continue reading