To cope, Klopp has deconstructed his midfield, drafting first Fabinho and then Jordan Henderson into the back line. The team has lost its rhythm. A swarm of other injuries — Thiago Alcantara and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missing the first third of the season, Diogo Jota and Naby Keita the middle third, the usual wear-and-tear of a long, hard campaign — has left him with little choice but to play those members of his squad who were left standing.
In those circumstances, trying to inculcate a new style of play is hardly realistic. Liverpool does need to evolve; with its resources, it should not be in a position where it is fretting about whether it can fend off West Ham, Everton and, possibly most pertinently, a surging Chelsea to finish in the top four. But in terms of retaining the title, it did not so much meet a setback as run into a roadblock.
There is a useful contrast, here, with its most recent conqueror and its heir apparent. So entwined have been the fortunes of Liverpool and Manchester City over the last three years that there is now a temptation to see them as being somehow inextricably linked, the success of one taken as a direct indictment of the other’s failure.
This season only seems to reinforce the parallel. Liverpool’s struggles this year do not perfectly match those City faced in the last one: Where City was volatile, scoring great rafts of goals only to freeze completely every few weeks, Liverpool’s fade has been a slow-burn demise, set in motion even before the title was won, the team sputtering through the autumn and only stalling completely at Christmas.
But at first glance, the cause and the effect are the same: the lack of defensive cover, the oxygen debt to be paid after two seasons at the most rarefied heights, the sense of a wall being hit, all of it coalescing as Manchester City ran rampant at Anfield on Sunday, the pendulum swinging irrevocably back toward Pep Guardiola’s team.
There is an easy explanation for that, too. Last summer, Guardiola and his employers knew their team needed more steel. City had lost nine games the previous season, its efforts to win a third straight title undone not only by Liverpool’s relentlessness but by its own glass jaw.