"The champions of England again, at last, are Liverpool."
With these words, all the pain and anguish that Liverpool fans had suffered over the last 3 decades was forgotten. Having missed out on winning the league by the narrowest of margins the season before, they were not to be denied last year.
On 22 July 2020, despair turned to ecstasy as Jordan Henderson lifted the Premier League trophy for the very first time in Liverpool's history. It brought to an end their 30-year wait for the league title.
The ease with which they accomplished this task was an added feather to their recent success that seemed to herald the dawn of a new era of dominance for the Reds. Fast-forward to the present and the picture could not be more different.
Liverpool are currently 7th in the Premier League table, 5 points off the top 4 and have genuine concern over their participation in the Champions League next season. They have already been knocked out of the two domestic cups and the Champions League remains their only source of hope for any silverware this season.
How did a Liverpool side featuring a fearsome front three, an impenetrable defense and an invincible aura at home, end up going from one of the best teams over the last few seasons to one of the worst defending champions of all time?
The men on the sidelines for Liverpool
Nobody can deny that Liverpool have been dealt a bad hand in terms of injuries that they have suffered this season. Their defense has faced the brunt of it, with everyone barring Andy Robertson facing lengthy spells out of action.
Their 3 senior centre-backs Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have all suffered lengthy injuries. This forced Klopp to play Jordan Henderson and Fabinho as makeshift centre-backs for a large chunk of the season.
The new signings have not been immune to injuries either. The impressive Diogo Jota had his blistering start in a Liverpool shirt halted by an unfortunate injury.
This continuous procession of injuries has led to Klopp putting square pegs in round holes while fielding his starting eleven. He has struggled to find the right balance within the side and continues to chop and change his lineup.
The Van Dijk factor
Mentioning the injury to Virgil van Dijk in one sentence does not do justice to his impact on Liverpool.
Arguably the best centre-half in the world since joining Liverpool, Van Dijk completely transformed Liverpool's defense upon his arrival. His leadership, strength, aerial ability and composure on the ball has been excellent. Klopp seems to have found the missing piece of the puzzle with the signing of the Dutchman.
Hence, losing Van Dijk to an ACL tear in the Merseyside derby meant that Liverpool had lost the linchpin of their success. Not only have they missed his defensive prowess, but also the composure he brings to the backline which compliments Liverpool's high-octane game.
His ability to play out from the back with minimal fuss while moving the ball quickly from back to front helped Liverpool in keeping their tempo up, something that has been a problem for them throughout this season. His trademark long diagonals have also been sorely missed by the out-of-sorts Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool have not been the same since his injury and are yet to find a way to fill the void left by their talismanic defender. Although Liverpool's struggles cannot solely be credited to Van Dijk's injury, it has been a contributor to Liverpool's downfall this season.
While it is not wrong for Klopp to blame injuries for Liverpool's defensive issues, no such reason can be conjured up for their attacking woes.
Ever since Mo Salah joined them from Roma in 2017, Liverpool have had one of the best attacking trios in Europe. Before the start of the season, Salah, Mane and Firmino had combined to score an outrageous 217 goals in all competitions in just 3 seasons!
While Salah has maintained his high standards this season, the same cannot be said about his strike partners. Mane has been a shadow of his former self while Firmino simply hasn't scored enough goals.
Liverpool's best attacking player in their title-winning season, Mane, in particular, seems to have stepped off the gas this season. He has struggled to take on defenders and his decision-making in the final third has been poor. Confidence seems to be running low for the Senegalese.
The stats don't look good for the Reds frontline. Mane and Firmino have scored 12 and 6 goals respectively in 37 appearances so far this season. Liverpool, meanwhile, are currently on a shocking run of scoring just 1 goal in their last 7 games at Anfield in the Premier League.
Teams have been more than happy to sit back and defend deep against them, especially at Anfield, and they have found it difficult to break down opposition defenses. With the supply line to the front three from the full-backs and midfield cut down, there is plenty of cause for concern.
Since Jota has been sidelined for a considerable part of the season, goals from forwards outside the front three have been a rare commodity. So unless Liverpool's forwards rediscover their form, it could be a long road to recovery for the reigning champions.
The man at the helm
Having mentioned the injury crisis that has struck Liverpool and the poor form of many key players across the pitch, one cannot overlook the man in charge of it all.
Jurgen Klopp has cemented his status as a legend in Liverpool's history after winning the Champions League and the Premier League in the last two seasons. However, the new season has brought with it tougher challenges.
Injuries have ravaged Liverpool's squad and left them short in key areas. After losing all of his first-choice centre-backs to injury, Klopp decided to move Henderson and Fabinho from midfield into defense. He was also forced to employ the services of the inexperienced Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams.
Klopp has already used 18 different centre-back pairings in total this season. The constant shuffling at the heart of the defense has created instability and uncertainty in the side. His reluctance to trust Phillips, who has impressed every time he has stepped onto the pitch, has also raised eyebrows.
Klopp's inability to get more out of Thiago has also been a source of immense frustration for Liverpool fans. The Spanish sensation was expected to revamp Liverpool's midfield and improve the service to the front three with his exquisite passing ability. To say that it has not materialized would be an understatement.
Playing Henderson and Fabinho in defense has left Thiago exposed in the middle of the park. He has struggled to dictate the tempo of games and has been uncharacteristically sloppy on the ball. Yet to register a goal or assist in 19 appearances for the club, he is still waiting for his Liverpool career to kick off.
There is no denying the fact that Klopp has done a remarkable job in transforming the Liverpool squad that he inherited into a world class outfit. However, some of his decisions in recent times have left a lot to be desired as he faces an uphill task to salvage this season.
Despite everything that has gone wrong for Liverpool so far this season, it is also important not to get too carried away. There's still plenty left for Liverpool to fight for, both on the home front and in Europe, and a lot can happen between now and the end of the season.
Their focus will undoubtedly shift to the Champions League as they prepare to take on Real Madrid in a mouth-watering quarterfinal clash. With Manchester City, Bayern Munich and PSG all in the other half of the draw, they will be quietly confident of their chances of making it to a 3rd UCL final in 4 seasons.
There have been some signs of improvement in the last couple of games with Liverpool looking to steady the ship as we head towards the business end of the season. 2 wins and 2 clean sheets in the last 2 games including progression to the quarterfinals of the UCL, have provided a much-needed boost to the Reds.
Liverpool fans will also be delighted to welcome back Diogo Jota from injury. He hit the ground running with a goal against his former employers last week and the club will be hoping that he can replicate his early-season form and provide some much-needed firepower in attack.
Fabinho's return to the side as a midfield destroyer has helped Thiago express himself a lot more. The midfield of Thiago, Henderson and Fabinho could be the way forward for Liverpool. New signing Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips will be hoping to provide some consistency at the back.
It has been a topsy-turvy season for Liverpool so far, with inconsistency plaguing the Reds. However, the fickle nature of most clubs' fortunes this season means they are not alone in this regard. The international break will provide them with the perfect opportunity to regroup and prepare for the rest of the season.
If there is a team that can turn this season around, it is Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. They have entertained and enthralled on their way to glory in the the past and it would not be a surprise to see them return to their best in the future.