Clearly, that delay and inability to field world-class centre-backs – whether through injury or the affordability of targets – has wrecked the season. Should FSG take the hit for that? How much of what has happened in the last 12 months could it have foreseen?
Thiago and Diogo Jota looked astute purchases in September. But the back-up players assembled whose contributions were minimal in the last two years have been a let-down; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain not yet the same since serious injury, Xherdan Shaqiri inconsistent, Divock Origi anonymous since his legend was secured in the 2019 Champions League run and Naby Keita too often injured.
When Liverpool won the title last summer, Klopp and his players said all the right things with absolute conviction. “This is just the start,” was the recurring theme of every interview, no-one anticipating the imminent catastrophic injury list or for how long the pandemic would last, de-weaponising Anfield.
This season has demonstrated how unless every detail is perfect – from the signings to injury luck – dreams can fall apart quickly. If FSG decides as it often does to keep quiet rather than offer soothing words to the public, reassuring actions will be needed when it comes to backing the manager in the summer.
‘Anfield, with people and without, is completely different’
– Pep Guardiola, February 2021
People appear to be sick of hearing it from Liverpool, so maybe the words of the Manchester City manager about how lockdown football has impacted the champions more than most will resonate.
There will come a time when Klopp and other leading Premier League and Champions League managers will talk more freely about the challenges he has referenced over the past years, especially as the emotional element of his football is so fundamental to it flourishing.
For now, every time he speaks on his Zoom calls, you sense his lip biting until it bleeds. There must have been times when the Liverpool manager has felt like pausing, staring into the mini-camera and reminding the world, “You do know what you are watching is not real football, don’t you?” And that’s before we delve deeper into the injury list and the more serious trauma of the personal tragedies he and some of his players have endured.
But he cannot, because that is not what the watching public, nor media, want to hear, and even mild efforts to highlight unusual circumstances are ridiculed as ‘an excuse’ for underperformance or being so-called ‘bad champions’.
So we are willingly engaged in this prolonged experiment of pandemic football because the alternative of nothing is too tedious to contemplate for viewers, too barren for those of whose jobs rely on the game continuing, and too expensive to tolerate for the executives who need the broadcast revenue.
So for our own entertainment and peace of mind, we understandably buy into the well-produced mirage every time a game kicks off and the tape of the fake crowd plays, even though reminders of how artificial the situation contaminate every match day.
It’s no excuse for Liverpool toiling in seventh place, of course. And yes, every club has to deal with it. Nevertheless, although not so many people are mentioning it as much as at the climax to last season, this is the one which ought to have the asterisk next to it. If Liverpool are as bad as this a year from now, they will be in more serious trouble. Until then, we are judging them amid the illusion of normality in these most abnormal circumstances.