LIVERPOOL, England — Jurgen Klopp has grown accustomed to making history as Liverpool manager, but he and his team are now creating it for all the wrong reasons. Times have been bad in recent weeks at Anfield, but the reigning Premier League champions are now in a full-blown crisis after losing 2-0 at home to Everton for the first time this century.
That’s not a misprint. Everton had not won at the home of their Merseyside neighbours since September 1999 and had not tasted victory of any kind against Liverpool, in any competition, since a 2-0 league win at Goodison Park in October 2010.
No major big-city derby anywhere in the world has been so one-sided. Espanyol have beaten Barcelona and Torino have been victorious against Juventus in the years since Everton last beat Liverpool, but that long, agonising wait is now over thanks to Richarlison‘s third-minute opener and an 82nd-minute Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty.
“I am very pleased for the club and the supporters,” Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti said. “I hope for sure that they are going to celebrate tonight. It was a good performance. A lot of fight and spirit. I am really happy.”
Everton deserved their victory, which triggered the release of celebratory fireworks in nearby Stanley Park and the sounding of car horns in the streets, but the defeat merely compounded what has already been an awful 2021 so far for Liverpool. From being an outstanding team of champions, Liverpool are now locked in a battle simply to qualify for the Champions League next season. Everton, Chelsea and West Ham United all are capable of finishing above them now.
“It’s tough to take,” Klopp said. “I don’t like to talk today about the good stuff because we lose the game and we feel that deeply. I just have to use it tomorrow and it is our lifeline to keep going.
“We have to improve on the finishing stuff and then we will win football games.”
Last season, every time Klopp’s team set a new record, it was a positive one. Whether it was consecutive wins, points tally or the end of the club’s 30-year wait to be crowned champions of England again, it was all good news.
But there is now no end to the bad news for Liverpool. Aside from the pain of finally losing to Everton, this defeat marked the first time since 1923 that Liverpool have lost four successive home games.
Little less than a month ago, Klopp’s team were 68 games unbeaten at home in the league — a sequence stretching back to April 2017 — but since losing to Burnley on Jan. 21, they have lost to Brighton & Hove Albion, Manchester City and now Everton. Previously an impregnable fortress, Anfield has now witnessed four defeats and two draws in its last six league games, with only two Liverpool goals in those fixtures.
But the grim statistics don’t end there. This was also Liverpool’s fourth successive league defeat, home and away, having also lost at Leicester City last week, and on a personal level Klopp has lost his unbeaten record against Everton in his 13th derby.
So there is plenty for Klopp to unpack when he next sits at his desk and attempts to find a way out of this dismal run. It is hard to find a suitable adjective to describe it because it has now gone beyond a slump and a malaise. Meltdown is perhaps the most accurate.
Injuries have unquestionably been a central factor in Liverpool’s woeful defence of their title, and the problems began when Virgil van Dijk suffered a cruciate ligament injury against Everton at Goodison in October. Since losing their defensive talisman, Liverpool’s injuries haven’t stopped. Van Dijk’s defensive partner Joe Gomez is also out with a serious knee injury, with Joel Matip sidelined and midfielder Fabinho, who has filled in at the back throughout the campaign, also out.
And the situation deteriorated further in this game when captain Jordan Henderson, once against playing as a makeshift centre-half, limped off on 30 minutes after suffering a groin injury. So when substitute Nathaniel Phillips replaced Henderson to play alongside Ozan Kabak, it was the 18th central defensive pairing that Liverpool had all season. Eighteen!
Those defensive injuries, and the ripple effect they have had on the midfield, have been well documented. There is nothing new to say about the overcrowded treatment room, other than to say that Kabak, signed on loan from Schalke 04 in January, looked well short of the required quality during a torrid 90 minutes against Everton.
The uncertainty at the back and in midfield has impacted on Liverpool’s goal threat, with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all having chances, but missing them, in this game. Two goals in six home games tells its own story, though. Liverpool possess great forwards, but when they snatch at sporadic chances, they won’t score goals.
The Anfield effect is also worth noting. Due to absence of supporters because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anfield is no longer the noisy cauldron that urged Liverpool to the title last season. Klopp has built a team that rides the wave of noise from the supporters, but that extra ingredient has been missing this season and we are now seeing just how important it is to this team.
But for all the mitigating factors behind their terrible run of results, Liverpool are still a strong team with quality players and Everton beat them comfortably. Ancelotti’s players overcame the pressure of history to finally win here and it was significant that, when Sigurdsson scored the spot kick to seal the victory, every outfield player celebrated in front of the section that would usually accommodate the Everton supporters.
This was a huge win for Everton, but the impact of defeat is arguably bigger for Liverpool because they are now in a tailspin and there is no obvious way out of it.