Five or more years of Jurgen Klopp looks to have taken its toll on Liverpool’s legacy players. Thomas Tuchel’s sacking is a reminder of the brutal, fragile nature of football management. Nobody is invulnerable.
After half an hour, Virgil van Dijk stood aghast with arms outretched. Moments after clearing one clear-cut chance off the line he was watching his defence being torn to shreds again, while the Liverpool forwards huffed and puffed with the Napoli house unmoved.
Towards the end of Liverpool’s first-half embarrassment, tongue firmly in cheek, we reminded the Twitter masses that ‘Tuchel’s available’.
‘Can he play centre half at short notice?’ was one response. Joe Gomez stole the show – he was all over the place and at fault for all three first-half goals: giving the ball away, failing to track runners and being outmuscled on and off the ball. But Napoli scored again within a minute of Gomez being replaced at half-time. This isn’t just his nadir, but Liverpool’s under Jurgen Klopp.
Van Dijk seems to have aged ten years in the last six months. Andrew Robertson looks similarly shot. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ego has grown to a point where he just doesn’t bother running back at all. And having played like a 20-year-old up to his 35th birthday, at the age of 36 James Milner now looks like a Masters footballer, supplementing games with afternoon naps.
Unlike at the start of 2021, when Liverpool lost eight of 12 games in the Premier League, the caveats aren’t as easy to come by. There are injuries, but not to the same extent. And at no point in that run were they pummelled and embarrassed as they were in Naples.
Klopp’s style, like that of any top-class manager, requires absolute commitment. The high line only works if there is a semblance of control and consistent pressure on the ball; Liverpool have neither. The defending is terrible, but it’s not just the defenders themselves that are struggling. If one member of the team isn’t pulling their weight it’s difficult; with so few of the Liverpool players pulling their weight, Klopp’s football is proving impossible.
And on a day when Thomas Tuchel has been sacked by Chelsea, who are above Liverpool in the Premier League, and haven’t fallen as far the Reds this season, we’re reminded of the brutal and fragile nature of football management.
Chelsea owner Todd Boehly took all emotion out of his decision, refusing to labour over the past successes of Tuchel or the loyalty he’s shown. It was cruel, but as we know and are reminded of frequently, not just today but every day, that’s football. And if FSG narrow their focus to this season, and disregard the wonderful things Klopp has done for their football club, the German could be out on his ear come Thursday lunchtime.
If the Liverpool players want Klopp to stay they’ve got a funny way of showing it. Either that, or they don’t have the energy to commit to his methods.
It feels like they’re at breaking point. It’s surely no coincidence that Luis Diaz, who scored one beautiful goal and had a bullet header saved, and Harvey Elliott, are the standout peformers this season. The rest of the starting XI have had five or more years of Klopp – the legacy players have got nothing left in them.
It’s as though they’re suffering form a Klopp tax, meaning you can tack an extra couple of years onto the age of each of the players who have lived, succeeded, but ultimately suffered through season after season with no respite from the heavy metal blaring in their ears.
Maybe, just maybe, they’ve had enough.