Stagnant Liverpool showing little sign of progress under Jurgen Klopp
It wasn't a major surprise when Liverpool lost 4-1 to Tottenham on Sunday.
The excellent run against the best sides under Jurgen Klopp always had something of the mystical about it. Dropping points to Manchester City and Manchester United was a sign of things to come.
It would be nice to say the defensive debacle against a rampant Harry Kane was a shock. The sad truth is it wasn't. Not in the slightest.
Even after somehow dragging their way back into it, a decisive third goal right on half time ended the game as a contest.
Ask how a side can concede at the moment it should be at its most vigilant. You probably asked the same question when the Reds went 2-0 down in the first 12 minutes against one of Europe's in-form teams.
The answer to both questions makes grim reading; it's Liverpool in 2017, that's what you expect.
Coaches treat football like chess. You show your moves in one game, they go away and return with a counter to those moves. It's no coincidence the better sides are seeing through Liverpool's style.
Tottenham targeted Liverpool's left hand side from the off. It became so obvious Dejan Lovren was ignominiously hauled off after 30 minutes. Having just got back into the game, it seemed odd to disrupt things but it needed to be done.
Afterward it was felt Klopp threw Lovren under a bus. "If I had been on the pitch, Kane cannot get the ball," he said. Harsh but true.
Klopp backtracked a little after that and took responsibility, but Liverpool fans are beginning to doubt the sincerity of words like: "Now we have to prove we can fix it."
Two questions: how and when? The players simply aren't there. Klopp moved Joe Gomez from right-back to central defence despite having Ragnar Klavan on the bench. The Estonian is no longer trusted.
There seems to be a portrayal of the situation as something that's just started happening. It's disingenuous in the extreme. Liverpool have conceded two goals or more in almost a third of their games under Klopp.
There was a certain irony in Mauricio Pochettino exploiting Lovren's weakness. He was Southampton's boss when they won 1-0 at Anfield on Sept. 21, 2013.
The Croatian was not only a rock that day; he scored the winner and first alerted Liverpool to the idea of him fixing their own defensive malaise. The same problems still exist four years later and in fact seem to be worse.
It's not hard to figure out Lovren's decline. The same thing is happening to Michael Keane at Everton. Removed from the work rate, organisation and protective mind-set of Sean Dyche's Burnley, the player looks ill at ease in his new home.
At least Everton actually did buy a centre-half. The criticism of Liverpool's inadequate summer transfer window won't go away. Mohammed Salah is superb of course, but Liverpool's defensive options were weakened and claims of wanting to fix them now seem deluded.
In the third month of the season Liverpool have to undergo a complete transformation in their approach. It is in the nature of most supporters to want to believe anything, even if it resembles voodoo.
On day one, Klopp said he wanted to make supporters believers. The bitter truth is that Liverpool fans rarely take much convincing. Their overreaction to Jose Mourinho's negative tactics at Anfield sprang merely from its obvious contrast with how Klopp approaches football.
The embarrassment of Sunday was inflicted by a team containing players like Kane and Dele Alli, proving good players can be found without the massive chequebook Liverpool seem to spend their lives crying about.
Discipline and organisation also comes cheap. In fact it's free. At some stage Klopp and Liverpool have to outline a strategy that harks back to the club's glory era instead of the current plan -- where the club is neither rich enough to fight the likes of United and City nor remotely dedicated or savvy enough to combat Tottenham.
Instead they bought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, an expensive player spending all his time on the bench.
It'll be a slow building job from scratch, one that tests the patience of most supporters -- but is the current gradual stagnation less painful? When Klopp was appointed was probably the time to announce Liverpool were going back to rebuilding the whole club from the bottom up.
The current mode of buying two big signings every summer and hoping Klopp will overachieve simply isn't working. Will he still have the patience to start from scratch, anyway?
Liverpool have operated in a twilight zone between success and failure, wealth and prudence, for far too long. They must commit to either buying their way out of trouble or rebuilding the club properly.
Without the know-how or will to do it, all of this is academic anyway.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.