As the jubilant Manchester United fans made their way, singing and dancing, to the Old Trafford exits, Liverpool’s supporters prepared themselves for a long, painful wait in silence in the away end. The contrast with last season could hardly have been starker. In the press conference room, Erik Ten Hag wore the look of a man whom the weight of the world had, temporarily at least, been lifted while Jurgen Klopp in contrast was that of a man who’d been told to expect roadworks on his way home. Manchester United were climbing and Liverpool were falling. Questions are mounting for the men from Anfield just three games into the new season. The Reds were taken for a run on the opening game when Fulham twice netted against them first before they could struggle to recover in a game that ended in a stalemate. Crystal Palace last week seemed to overpower Liverpool and the Reds just seemed to be lucky that they did not concede more goals by the blow of the whistle at 90 minutes.
This is the worst start that Liverpool have had to a league campaign in a decade and one which must cast serious doubt over their ability to challenge for the Premier League title as they have done so thrillingly in recent years. Yes, it might only be August but something is not seriously right on the Merseyside. The team has been faced with injury issues and most of their good players have been left out of matches. The absence of Thiago, in particular, has been keenly felt. He sets the team’s rhythm and tempo when fit and has the creativity and passing range to open up even the best-organized defense. With Nunez suspended and Roberto Firmino struggling, Jota has been badly missed. Liverpool had only the teenager Fabio Carvalho, in an attacking sense to work with Salah at the front line. Jota may, however, be back in training at the end month. Keita is the latest to fall with an injury in their Sunday game and now will be in the sidelines for some time. Thiago, Matip, and Konate are out until at least mid-September and Oxlade-Chamberlain even longer. In the meantime, Klopp must cross his fingers and hope nobody else pulls up.
The Reds take pride in the fact that they don’t sign players for the sake of it, and they can point to past success in terms of waiting for the right man to become available. This time around, they may as well stick to their guns but if the club aren’t at least asking the question of some of their long-identified midfield targets, then quite frankly they’re not doing their job. Liverpool’s midfield, short and long term, is an issue that has been bubbling and now seems to be ready to explode right in their faces. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you want to win football matches, then giving the opposition a one-goal head start is not a great idea. Yet that is essentially what Liverpool have been doing in all their three matches played this season. This means that if they continue in the same manner they will keep on having to fight their way back into the contest in each and every game. Their sluggish starts are alarming, especially away from home. Liverpool seem to be struggling to cope in away fixtures with intensity, physicality, and intent and this was well evident in their game against United and Fulham. Whether it’s complacency, fitness, or a collective lack of confidence - maybe it’s all of those things - it needs fixing soon.
When so much of a team's success has been built around the brilliant, unique skills of a group of core players, it must be extremely difficult to recalibrate when one of that group is not there. This is at least certainly the case with Liverpool ever since they let go of Senegalese superstar Sadio Mane who has had a good start of the season himself in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. His good start at the Bundesliga will not make the fact that Liverpool did let him go any easier to swallow. Mane’s blend of dynamism, physicality, and mentality made him nigh-on impossible to replace directly, hence why Liverpool chose to go down a different route with the signing of Darwin Nunez, a No.9 who would, in theory, offer a more natural focal point in attack. Nunez should be fine at Liverpool. He’s a good player who will undoubtedly improve but he would have given for a bit of Mane’s kind of steel, and his quality, at Old Trafford. When you dig so deep for so long - 63 games, all of them vital and many of them on a knife-edge - it can’t be easy to simply dust yourself off and go again, however driven, however fit, however professional you are. Therefore, Liverpool might also be suffering from a hangover of the past season.The flip side is that if any side has shown itself capable of dragging themselves out of a hole and putting a run together in recent years, it’s Liverpool. The Reds need a convincing performance going forward if they are to have a fighting chance for this season's Premier League title.