Last season was a clear down season for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Despite an unusual number of injuries, possibly due to a lack of squad rotation in the previous years, the decline in performances for the 2020/21 season seemed inevitable.
Before the coronavirus break during the 2019/20 season, Liverpool were flying. In 29 matches, they had won 27, drew one and lost one. Post COVID-19 break, they were considerably worse winning just five of nine matches. In these matches, all of their stats were down.
Their xG (expected goals) and goals scored per 90 both fell from 2.10 to 1.57 and 2.24 to 2.11 respectively.
Defensively they weren’t faring better as their xGA (xG against) has risen from 0.99 to 1.21 per 90. This coincided with Liverpool conceding 0.72 goals a game to 1.33.
However, the decline in performances started earlier. After the international break in February, Liverpool didn’t look the same. In the 13 games after this break, they only created 1.6 xG and were conceding 1.22.
So, what caused this dip?
It is unclear. But it is expected to be due to a lack of rest for the main group of players which played nearly every minute of every match. However, some said the coronavirus could have had an impact on the performances.
This did see the embarrassing 3-0 loss to Watford who were relegated months later and Man City beating the Champions 4-0.
It was clear going into their first title defence in 30 years, Liverpool’s performances had taken a downward turn. This was epitomised in the famous 7-2 loss at Villa Park however, obviously Aston Villa were excellent in that game.
In the Red’s next game, they lost star man Virgil Van Dijk to injury for the rest of the season. This was the first of injuries to star players like captain Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Diogo Jota. It should be noted that the previous season (Manchester City’s title defence) they too suffered a lot of first-team injuries.
Despite this Pep Guardiola didn’t like to use it as an excuse for their poor season by their standards. But Klopp has got a reputation for whining in the media and using excuses such as it being too windy or the grass being too wet.
Klopp’s side also had their unbeaten home form ended by Sean Dyche’s Burnley. The Clarets ran out 1-0 winners at Anfield ending the 68-match unbeaten run and was the first of six consecutive home losses.
They unsuccessfully defended the title and scraped Champions League qualification thanks to Leicester City’s second consecutive late season capitulation.
Going into the 2021/22 season, Liverpool needed changes. They were coming off a disappointing season and seeing keyman Georginio Wijnaldum leave for free.
The Dutchman played in all 38 league matches for the Reds. In fact, since joining the Premier League, he didn’t play less than 33 matches in a single campaign.
FSG didn’t go for a big summer of spending like in 2018 which was unlike their usual models. At the time of writing, central defender Ibrahima Konaté is the only first-team signing.
Drop in performances, a disappointing season, the loss of a key player and no replacement signed meant a tactical change was in order. Since Klopp joined Liverpool, the Reds have pressed less each year, yet the average position of the defensive line has progressed up the pitch significantly.
Would the German manager decide his team would press even less and have a higher defensive line again? Or would he do something more significant?