Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes have evaporated when Jurgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah started to empty out, writes Dominic King.


Liverpool’s title challenge was dealt a crushing blow that afternoon, with Crystal Palace shaking Anfield to its foundations.

Those who work in the stadium have seen many aspects of Jurgen Klopp’s post-match appearance: the enthusiasm and energy after a big win, the outpouring of emotion when things don’t go as planned. Liverpool’s manager is a big man and you always know he’s there.

But after Liverpool lost 0-1 at home to Crystal Palace on April 14 for the first time in the past two years, Klopp’s performance was obviously different. Where before you would have described him as a volcano filled with fire, now it’s easy to see that he has become a beacon.

Yes, he was there, but beneath that black quilted jacket and baseball cap, he seemed empty. There was no damage – it would be disingenuous to say that – but the man’s gas tank was drained and all that was left was smoke.

As early as January 26, he warned that the red light was on. He looked down at the TV cameras and announced that his Anfield career was coming to an end because his energy had run out. Klopp made it clear that he didn’t want the next few months to be some kind of farewell tour, but that day everything changed.

Jurgen Klopp looked like a man with an empty tank after Merseyside derby defeat

Jurgen Klopp looked like a man with an empty tank after Merseyside derby defeat

Liverpool manager's attitude is obviously different after losing to Crystal Palace at home

Liverpool manager’s attitude is obviously different after losing to Crystal Palace at home

Everton defeated Liverpool 2-0 at Goodison Park, ending Liverpool's title hopes.

Everton defeated Liverpool 2-0 at Goodison Park, ending Liverpool’s title hopes.

You could see it at Goodison Park on Wednesday as Everton swung the ax and knocked down a Liverpool side that looked like a giant oak tree. Klopp shuffled back from his technical area and found a makeshift perch as the redshirt raced down blind, blue lanes, losing tackles and second balls.

Its symbolic significance is huge. Like a boxer retreating into a corner, unable to raise his arms in the final round, Klopp had nothing more to give – and neither did his team. In some quarters, given the time of year, this will be seen as Liverpool suffocating in the big moments, but in reality, the answer is much simpler.

To use an analogy, the Premier League season is like the route on the Tour de France, or Puy De Dome for short. The Climb to the Peak marks the end of the Central Plateau Stage, a climb that will sear your lungs, buckle your legs, and pose the toughest emotional and physical questions to participants.

There will always be a rider who thinks he can break through and make history, but the one who comes home first will always be caught out: Liverpool work so hard just to be able to challenge for the title and have nothing to offer and they need something to carry on towards the end s attack.

The Everton game is about to happen. You could trace it all back to that chaotic FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United when they failed to dislodge their opponents for the umpteenth time, but it would be too easy to draw that conclusion.

Since defeating Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final, we can now see Liverpool running at full speed just to keep up with Manchester City and Arsenal, whose fourth and fifth gears are still on standby.

They haven’t kept a clean sheet in the Premier League since their last-gasp win over Nottingham Forest on March 2. They then drew in the second half against Manchester City, which proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

Liverpool's recent woes can be traced back to their chaotic FA Cup defeat to Manchester United

Liverpool’s recent woes can be traced back to their chaotic FA Cup defeat to Manchester United

Mo Salah has made the headlines, but he may have been let down by others

Mo Salah has made the headlines, but he may have been let down by others

Sheffield United could have beaten Liverpool at Anfield in April and Brighton had their chance to cause trouble. All the while, you see their grind, and the peaks they have to climb, and wonder if they really believe they can do it. At Goodison, everything fell apart.

“You have to get through these periods,” Klopp said amid the debris of the first defeat in his neighbor’s backyard. ‘Nothing is different. People ask about mentality, but mentality has different aspects. It’s not a question of attitude or what the boy wants.

“Nobody does this on purpose. It’s my job to give them the confidence to do it. That’s part of my responsibility, I’m responsible for what happened (here). It’s not that I feel good, that’s It’s the toughest part of football yet. We have to keep working on it.

He wouldn’t have it any other way, but you watched this team on Wednesday and for the first time you saw the frailties surrounding those who were once totems and began to wonder if some of the more recent arrivals could truly abide by the traditions of the past.

For some reason, Mo Salah is making headlines. It was his most ineffective performance at Goodison Park and it would be nonsense to suggest that this season will be his highlight at Anfield.

One theory, though, is that he was let down by others. On social media, there was a clip of Salah making a key pass during the game. The first was the chance he created for Darwin Nunez at Goodison Park, with the Uruguayan blasting straight at Jordan Pickford.

From there it was Nunez’s miss from eight yards against Crystal Palace, then Luis Diaz’s miss against Manchester City and then Trent Alexander-Arnold’s miss against Arsenal at Anfield. Hit the crossbar again during the game.

Darwin Nunez is among those who have missed out on big chances from Salah this season

Darwin Nunez is among those who have missed out on big chances from Salah this season

And more: The pass to Dominic Sbozoslai at Old Trafford: wasted. Nunez’s knockdown at Luton: over the bar. Nunez’s cross at the Etihad Stadium? Saved. Another through ball from Luton passed to Nunez. blocked. Assuming four of those chances, Liverpool are four points clear at the top of the table.

You’ll notice Nunez is mentioned five times above, with Jamie Carragher hinting that perhaps a parting of ways with the Uruguayan is inevitable. Nunez was a popular figure, cheeky and chaotic, but he lacked the ruthlessness of an assassin in front of goal. Many are wondering if it will ever come.

Nunez is more difficult to deal with than Salah. He has run on empty since returning from injury at the Africa Cup of Nations in mid-winter. He also, like his manager, has hardly missed a game in seven years, home or away, and gives it his all.

Of course, there comes a time when his stellar numbers and consistency decline, but the fact that his decline coincided with an injury to the club’s best finisher, Diogo Jota, is a perfect storm. No one – including Nunez, who has two goals in 11 games – stepped up.

Take Sbozoslai, for example. His first few months in England were brilliant, with cannonball shots, brilliant pressing and passing. Liverpool went the extra mile financially to land him last summer and his transfer clause meant he was required to pay a fee of £60m within 12 months.

Dominik Szoboszlai has had a strong start to the season but has yet to show the consistency he needs

Dominik Szoboszlai has had a strong start to the season but has yet to show the consistency he needs

There’s no doubt there’s a quality player lurking in him, but he hasn’t mastered the consistency needed yet, and that’s going to have to change when the new linebackers arrive along with Arne Slaughter. Like many at Goodison Park, he looked completely lost.

“Everyone has to look in the mirror, look at their performance and ask themselves if they really gave everything,” said Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk, who was pleased with the club’s link with Sloter. “Do they really want to win the league?

“Honestly, we are fighting and there are still games after tonight but I think if we play like we did against Everton and not win the challenge and not give the referee the opportunity to award a free kick like we did so many times , then we have no chance.

While the words are good, the reality is different. With no one expecting Liverpool to be champions now, the focus now is on what happens next once Slott is confirmed to take over Klopp’s mantle.

Michael Edwards is now in charge of the day-to-day running of the club and he and new sporting director Richard Hughes will be making changes and big decisions will have to be made. Salah, Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example, all need new deals.

Feyenoord's Arne Slott set to succeed Klopp this summer, could make big changes

Feyenoord’s Arne Slott set to succeed Klopp this summer, could make big changes

Virgil van Dijk is among Liverpool stars entering the final year of his contract

Virgil van Dijk is among Liverpool stars entering the final year of his contract

None of this will come cheap, and history shows that not everyone will be happy with what is offered in negotiations. Van Dijk and Salah are both over 30, and James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum will all prove that service doesn’t matter when discussing the bottom line.

This is Liverpool’s way of doing business, raising funds through the sale of players such as Greek left-back Kostas Tsimikas. The scouting department is already looking at options to provide cover for Andy Robertson, with Las Palmas’ Sergi Cardona being monitored.

Perhaps people have not fully realized the nature of this upheaval. Klopp is surrounded by a group of lieutenants, from Pep Lijnders, Vitor Matos and Peter Kravitz, to a number of compatriots in key technical areas. The vast majority of people will leave.

Change is not easy but it is certainly necessary and for Klopp it will be restorative. He’s had a great time leading Liverpool since 2015, but it’s taken its toll: a year in charge of Liverpool is like two years in charge anywhere else, and in recent weeks, it’s taken a toll. The damage is obvious.

You can see for yourself as he reports to Sky Sports on Wednesday. He picked at his fingers, bit his nails, and had deep-set eyes. Usually he’s very active in front of the camera, but this is different. The end is coming. Goodison proved why the decision he made in January was the right one.



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