In an almost perfect season up to the February winter break, Liverpool's form has suddenly nosedived.
Whilst the Reds were able to sneak past Norwich City and overhaul West Ham United, neither performance was convincing, and that’s before you get to the three losses that Liverpool have suffered in their past four matches.
Liverpool’s season take a turn for the worse
The downward sequence began with Liverpool’s defeat at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Jürgen Klopp’s side fell behind with just a few minutes on the clock and whilst Atletico defended superbly, Liverpool struggled going forward. Yet a 1-0 defeat away to Diego Simeone’s warrior team is hardly a disaster, and one Liverpool can still overturn in the second leg at Anfield next week.
A 3-0 defeat to Watford was the real shock, even if the warning signs were there against Norwich, Atletico and West Ham. Nigel Pearson’s relegation battlers had wasted numerous chances in the reverse fixture at Anfield in December, playing encouraging football but losing 2-0 to Liverpool.
However, at Vicarage Road Watford shot up several levels from their performance at Anfield and Liverpool plummeted to their worst display of the season by far.
Dejan Lovren endured his usual brunt of criticism when he plays in a defeated Liverpool team, but the entire side, both starting eleven and substitutes, were completely off-colour. Most could not even complete basic passes, and Watford thoroughly deserved their thrashing of the league leaders.
Liverpool’s hopes of an unbeaten Premier League campaign and surpassing Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ record of 49 matches without defeat came crashing down last Saturday, in a manner no one would have predicted, regardless of the shaky form leading up to the game from the Reds.
Liverpool’s first chance to strike back following the Watford defeat came in the FA Cup and a trip to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea. Frank Lampard’s side have a poor home record so far this season, but there were no signs of that on Tuesday night as Chelsea won 2-0 to progress to the quarter-finals – a stage Liverpool have not reached since 2015.
Klopp made seven changes to his side, but still included heavyweights Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Andy Robertson, Fabinho and Sadio Mané in a team stronger than ones picked in previous rounds of the competition.
Liverpool improved upon their performance against Watford, but that was an extremely low bar to begin with. Ultimately, the Reds could not take their chances in the first half and were punished by Chelsea, who could have repeatedly added to the scoreline beyond Ross Barkley’s finish in the second half.
How have Liverpool lost their mojo?
Everything has to be placed in perspective. Liverpool are currently experiencing an unprecedented season for the club in the Premier League era, as they close in on their first league title for 30 years and hold a twenty-two point lead over second-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
Liverpool fans have dreamed of this moment – every other major trophy has been won repeatedly since the Reds were last crowned champions of England. For Liverpool, chasing the honour has become a Holy Grail, and it will fit nicely alongside their current status as the champions of Europe and the world.
Klopp has built a relentless winning machine which showed no signs of stopping and looked set to break all records. However, since Liverpool returned from the new winter break, the machine has slowed somewhat.
Players are struggling to reach their previous standards, perhaps due to a creeping complacency at the incredible scale of their achievements so far and how close they are to Anfield immortality by being four wins away from delivering the league title.
Recovering from injuries could be an issue – certainly for Fabinho, who has looked a shadow of the player who dominated Liverpool’s midfield for most of 2019.
However, Liverpool’s falling form looks more likely to have arrived from a loss of rhythm and a physical downturn, in a manner similar to what happened this time last year. These days, Liverpool now tend to experience their sluggish moment towards late February and early March, rather than in January.
Last season, four draws from six matches in the Premier League during this period was ultimately the difference between Liverpool and Manchester City for the league title. This season, three defeats from four has ended the Reds’ hopes of an unbeaten league season and replicating Manchester United’s treble of 1999 following their FA Cup exit.
Yet the dip this campaign will not carry the same impact on their title hopes as last season, emphasising just how incredible Liverpool have been up to this point in the campaign.
Bournemouth the perfect opponent before Atletico on Wednesday night
Even assuming the Premier League is wrapped up sooner rather than later, Liverpool’s season remains far from over. Records are great, but a league and Champions League double would be far greater, even if anything is a bonus alongside an incoming nineteenth league title for the Reds.
In order to be prepared for Atletico’s Anfield arrival on Wednesday, Liverpool need to regain momentum and confidence this weekend. Therefore, who better to play than AFC Bournemouth at Anfield?
Eddie Howe’s team can be dynamic and destructive on their day, as their displays just against Chelsea have shown in recent seasons, both home and away, and even just last weekend in earning a draw against Lampard’s outfit.
However, they are usually porous defensively and Liverpool have a brilliant record against Bournemouth in recent years, winning 3-0 at the Vitality Stadium earlier this season after successive 4-0 victories away from home, in addition to a 3-0 win at Anfield last season.
Liverpool would love something similar on Saturday to get back in the groove and replicate their form from the majority of their fantastic campaign. The Reds had a downturn last year but came through it, starting by beating Bayern Munich in the last 16 of their victorious Champions League campaign last season.
Saturday may well see the Reds move out of this year’s slump – as they will need their top form in order to progress past a stubborn Atletico side and reignite their special season once again.