After a season where they almost won every major tournament that they entered, Liverpool began the 2022/23 season as the comfortable second-favourites to win the Premier League title behind their rivals Manchester City.
Indeed, the odds with sites like bet365 Sport at the time suggested that we were likely in for another two-horse race for the Premier League title this season.
The Reds were also amongst the favourites to win the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Champions League, having won the two domestic cup competitions last season, and being beaten finalists in the Champions League and finishing second to Manchester City by just a point in the EPL.
However, at the midway point of the current season, it has been nothing short of a culture shock for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, as his team has struggled massively, especially in the league.
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Liverpool’s 2022/23 Collapse
Having been eliminated from the Carabao Cup by Manchester City, the Reds have drawn Real Madrid in the Round of 16 of the Champions League and tonight they face an FA Cup Third Round replay against Wolves at Molineux.
That game only came to them on the back of a couple of controversial decisions going their way in a 2-2 draw between the teams at Anfield 10 days or so ago.
Meanwhile successive defeats in the Premier League to Brentford and Brighton have left the Reds in 9th place in the Premier League, 11 points behind Manchester City in second and an incredible 19 points behind runaway league leaders Arsenal.
More worryingly, the Reds are ten points off the Champions League playoff spots.
With the ownership of the club also up in the air with current owners FSG seeking either investment, or the sale of the club, it has been a tough time for Reds fans.
Which makes tonight’s FA Cup Third Round replay all the more important.
FT: Brighton 3-0 Liverpool.
The Reds’ season sinks to a new low as they’re outclassed and outfought by Brighton.
Something needs to change urgently. Never before under Jurgen Klopp have I seen a Liverpool team so out of ideas. Worrying. https://t.co/PHCQpuAE77
— Keifer MacDonald (@KeiferMacd) January 14, 2023
Why Is Tonight’s FA Cup Replay So Key For Liverpool?
There are a number of factors why tonight’s FA Cup replay is much more important for Liverpool than it has been in other years.
First up, the performances in the 3-1 loss at Brentford and even more so the 3-0 loss at Brighton were so poor, that Jurgen Klopp felt he had to apologise to the fans after their defeat on the south coast at the weekend.
On a professional pride level, Liverpool players should be stung by those performances and want to make some kind of statement when they are next in action, which just so happens to be tonight.
Too many Liverpool players were off the boil in those games. The famous “gegenpress” game that is a hallmark of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team, and is the style on which their success has been built, just was not in evidence.
In truth, the Reds looked slow, leaden footed and some of their defending was comical, especially against Brighton and that all started due to a lack of pressing from the front and in midfield.
Out of the Carabao Cup, certainly out of the running for the Premier League title, unlikely to qualify for the Champions League as it stands and with a very tough Champions League Round of 16 tie coming up in February, the FA Cup realistically offers Liverpool its best chance of any type of success this season.
For that reason alone, it is a key game for a team that has generally been excellent in cup competitions in the time that Jurgen Klopp has been manager.
What Are The Problems At Liverpool?
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The issue facing Jurgen Klopp and his management team is that it appears that it is not just one issue that has bedevilled the club this season. There are seemingly a number of major contributory factors that have played a key part in Liverpool’s struggles, with some of those factors directly leading from others.
However, all issues seem to stem from one key issue and that is the Reds owners inability (or lack of willingness) to invest in the club at a similar level to their main rivals.
Unable to follow the example of the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and even Arsenal and Manchester United in recent times, Liverpool have always been forced to cut their cloth accordingly, which has meant that any incomings of players, has had to be at least partly financed by player sales.
In fact, over the last 10 years, Liverpool have spent around £947m on transfers but recouped £656m in player sales, while this season alone, Chelsea have spent almost £400m in addition to the £1.4bn in purchases over the same period and there are reports that the team from London are not done yet.
In the same period, Man Utd have a net transfer spend of £903m, Man City £826.6m, Arsenal £489.7m and even Liverpool’s neighbours Everton are above them, as are Aston Villa, West Ham and Chelsea.
Liverpool come 14th on that list with a net transfer spend of £291.5m.
What is clear is that Liverpool have financed the purchase of some key players, only by selling others, such as Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and most recently Sadio Mane.
That’s different to the likes of Manchester City, United and Chelsea, as well as other top European clubs, who will buy the players they want first, with owners fronting the cost, before deciding which players they want to sell.
And those teams are selling players not because they need the money, but often to make them more compliant with financial fair play rules.
So this lack of funding from the owners, for whatever reason, is the central issue that runs through all of Liverpool’s issues at the moment.
Why Is The Lack Of Funding The Key Issue?
To understand why the funding is a key issue, you need to look at each individual issue Liverpool are facing and then work back from that to understand why it has arisen.
Lack of “Gegenpresse”
If yesterday’s game didn’t show FSG Liverpool needs the investment now.
There is no energy in the midfield leaving the defence open, no closing down, and hardly any tackles.
Don’t blame it on the injuries
— Red Until Dead⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (@getalifefree) January 15, 2023
Klopp’s famous Gegenpresse system is entirely reliant on high energy levels, stamina and pace particularly in attack and midfield. Indeed, that was the hallmark of his most successful Liverpool teams.
However, as this squad of players has got older and Liverpool have only been able to replace a couple of players, the stamina and pace levels in midfield and attack have dropped notably.
This is giving opponents much more time to pass the ball around Liverpool’s attack and midfield and get onto the Reds defensive backline.
Why haven’t Liverpool brought in the players they’d need to maintain this successful system? Funding. The players are out there, but they would cost so much that the Reds simply cannot afford to get them.
Unable to match the wage offers of main rivals for elite players
And then there is the issue with wages, with Liverpool struggling to match the wage offers of some of their main rivals for the elite players that make a huge difference to a team.
Only one Liverpool player (Mo Salah) is in the top ten highest paid players in the Premier League, the next best paid player is Virgil van Dijk at £220,000 per week.
Manchester City have seven players earning £220,000 per week or more, Man Utd have six, plus two earning £200,000 per week.
However, compared to their main rivals, when Liverpool do offer a big contract to a player, cuts have to be made elsewhere. In order to pay Mo Salah, many Liverpool fans feel that Sadio Mane was sacrificed to keep the Egyptian. Liverpool’s main rivals do not have to do this.
Finite Resources for Transfers
In terms of transfer fees, Liverpool only have a set amount to spend at any one time due to how FSG work the finances at the club.
This means when a player becomes available, such as Erling Haaland for example, Liverpool do not have the ability to go out and spend big to get the player, as teams like Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris St Germain and Chelsea can do.
Teams like City and PSG in particular do not seem to have any financial constraints when the right player becomes available, chiefly due to the wealth of their owners and their willingness to spend anything to get the player that they want.
This means that when those key players become available, Liverpool are always at the back of the pack when it comes to signing them.
Add to that a lack of confidence from losing so many games, players lacking form, injuries to key players and a general feeling of doom and gloom, tonight’s game takes on huge importance for Liverpool as they attempt to salvage their season.
FA Cup Third Round Replay Team News & Tips
Wolves v Liverpool (7.45pm)
Diego Costa could be set to return for Wolves after missing three games with an unspecified injury and after a 1-0 win over West Ham at the weekend, the midland side will be confident of another win here.
Liverpool will definitely be without the injured Diaz, Van Dijk, Firmino, Jota and Melo, while Darwin Nunez may not be risked, though he is close to a return.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has also indicated there will be changes to the team from that which played in the 3-0 defeat at Brighton, with James Milner and Stefan Bajcetic believed to be set to return while the likes of Harvey Elliott, Naby Keita, Fabio Carvalho and Curtis Jones may all be hoping for a start.
Prediction & Best Bet
Liverpool must respond after their last two away performances and in the cup, there’s no second chance, so I am expecting some response here from the Reds.
Prediction – Wolves 1-2 Liverpool (8/1) with bet365.