Mike Nevin Ident

A SEASON that pulsed with vibrancy, excitement and expectation has reached a critical, depressing low.

It feels like we’re getting everything wrong at the moment on and off the pitch. So many more questions than answers.

Questions for the first time this season about the manager; in the wake of Southampton with mistakes being repeated, in particular the make-up of the midfield and an insistence on pairing Jordan Henderson with Emre Can.

Gini Wijnaldum’s exclusion against the Saints was baffling in the context of the Reds’ most fluid form and most effective central trio throughout the campaign.

Once again, Liverpool huffed and puffed but rarely threatened to blow anyone’s house down.

Lingering questions too over planning for the known absence of Sadio Mane and the reliance on and stated faith in developing young players. When it comes to a crunch semi-final clash though, all bar the presumably enforced inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold, were deemed not worthy of the pressure of the occasion.

We’re all behind the growth and fostering of talent, but if the likes of Ovie Ejaria and Ben Woodburn aren’t sufficiently ready to ease the burden on legs full to the brim with lactic acid; to shine in games that matter, is it fair or acceptable to view them as legitimate squad players?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 11, 2016: Liverpool's substitutes Ben Woodburn and Ovie Ejaria warm-up during the FA Premier League match against West Ham United at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In truth, the promising crop of young lads are a couple of years away in terms of age and experience to be viable options to rest or rotate the familiar cast.

The January window conundrum is tiresome and it’s a given that players aren’t freely available, but when Nathan Redmond — an attacker with Mane’s pace and threat — slices through Liverpool’s rearguard time and again, it gives lie to the notion that personnel to reinforce is so thin on the ground.

Redmond is a mere example, regardless of whether we wish to snobbishly turn up our noses and question his or other players’ suitability, that perhaps Liverpool’s mid-season recruitment ethos isn’t quite as pure as advertised.

If January is increasingly seen as a time we scoff at strengthening, perhaps it’s legitimate to remind of a negative summer spend, and a seemingly half-arsed attempt to lure Christian Pulisic — now newly-contracted to Borussia Dortmund — at the back end of August.

There’s an arrogance in the way the club operates; assumption that today’s targets are still ripe for plucking a year hence. Alternatively, is there a naive and fundamental misunderstanding of the way the market moves and shifts?

While strategy, philosophy and ethos are all very well in business, money talks in this unique arena.

Therefore, questions surface regarding the owners’ real ambition; their real goals and whether they tally with those of supporters. Jürgen Klopp’s development philosophy is a convenient disguise and it’s hard to escape the feeling FSG fiddle while another season burns.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Friday, September 9, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and owner John W. Henry during the Liverpool FC Main Stand opening event at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For 2009 (under Tom Hicks and George Gillett) read 2014; ditto 2017.

The goal threat and Liverpool’s growing impotence in the final third is compounded by an out of sorts Divock Origi and a man apparently on his last legs in Daniel Sturridge. Once again, the will to recognise and address the issue that we’re light upfront is seemingly parked for another year.

If the balance sheet and the assumption that Champions League allure and revenue is the determining factor in this, then it seems sensible to ensure that status is achieved.

Without being melodramatic, on current form, a place in the top four isn’t guaranteed. Maybe we should prepare for the familiar litany of excuses about the lure of Europe’s premier competition, the riches of Manchester, or the London lifestyle.

When a title threat dissolves and cup finals disappear over the horizon it’s easy to knee-jerk. Instead, we should refocus on a league which isn’t yet lost and the alternative that is the FA Cup.

I would have more confidence in accepting our lot and redefine targets if our players didn’t look absolutely goosed.

Another legitimate poser therefore is whether the fabled pre-season boot camp, which saw the Reds fly out the traps, is having an impact now.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 14, 2016: Liverpool's Sadio Mane runs to manager Jürgen Klopp to celebrate scoring the fourth goal against Arsenal during the FA Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When Liverpool were smothering the life out of teams earlier in the season, the scared and the naysayers predicted we couldn’t keep it up. They are having their moment in the sun right now.

Maybe fitness levels instilled during the season’s preparation will see Liverpool ride out this wave and head home with a wet sail. The optimist in me hopes so, the evidence in front of my own eyes suggests not.

Klopp has many traditional sympathisers in momentum and largely selecting his best team week in, week out. At the risk of sounding like Ray the Fitness Egg; is this league, this domestic battlefield, too attritional to eschew the idea that rest and rotation are critical?

Again, this begs a question of the shadow squad and whether Klopp seldom veering from a best 11 is something forced upon him. The development message and faith in youth resonates loud and clear but his team selections hint at a hidden truth.

But all that is for another day.

Beat Chelsea next Tuesday and all in the garden is again rosy, though we can’t assume we will.

Defeating the ruthless, cocksure league leaders in our current state — at the peak of our trough — is no small order, to put it mildly.

PASADENA, USA - Wednesday, July 27, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp with Chelsea's manager Antonio Conte after the 1-0 defeat during the International Champions Cup 2016 game on day seven of the club's USA Pre-season Tour at the Rose Bowl. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

These aren’t the heady days of autumn when an incisive attacking force threatened to sweep all before us. If a victory reignites our season next week it comes through force of will.

The boss is right to question the bounce of the ball recently. Things are going against us and a young impressionable team is suffering. Make no mistake, this is now a huge test of Klopp’s heralded motivational attributes. He needs to really show his metal now, rally his troops and get some results before the fans turn sour. This is the reality of modern football; the goldfish bowl, sharp focus at a club such as ours that gets the better of even the best Liverpool men.

Klopp’s football principles are at the core of his being, he’s unlikely to embrace a change in the way we play and rightly so.

Leaving melodrama and critique aside for a moment, there remains so much left to play for. There are four more months of this drama to play out.

Momentum has all but halted. A dressing room and a fanbase needs raising from the floor.

A boisterous crowd wasn’t enough in midweek. Liverpool players collapsing to the ground, crestfallen at the final whistle is becoming a depressingly familiar sight. Klopp needs to bring these lads to their senses. He needs to refresh belief and confidence. Tiredness can be as much in the mind as the legs.

This is where as a manager you earn your corn.

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