UCL: After the Real Madrid defeat, Klopp needs a lesson on rebuilding Liverpool

Only a miracle could keep Liverpool in the Champions League now – so what should now be their aim for this season?

Last year at this time, Liverpool still had the League Cup final, FA Cup final, Champions League quarter-final, semi-final and final to play, plus a title run-in that went to the final minutes.

A lot has changed in such a short space of time. Now, Jurgen Klopp’s side know that – barring an absolute miracle in the Bernabeu in mid-March – they’ll play 12 fewer games than last season.

Which is probably good news for Klopp’s physically and mentally-shot squad.

Liverpool had restored some confidence with consecutive 2-0 wins ahead of hosting Real Madrid, but their underlying fragile confidence was exposed in brutal fashion by the Spaniards at Anfield.

Klopp’s side conceded three or more goals for the fifth time in 13 games since the World Cup.

At the other end, only five of Liverpool’s last 23 goals have been scored in the second half.

The problems are either complex or simple depending how deep you look into them, but they’re certainly numerous.

Again, there was a passive midfield that was far too easily passed around by Real’s quality. Again, there was a defence that crumbles and cannot defend set pieces. Again, there were substitutes who came on and didn’t impact the game. Again, Liverpool looked exhausted and offered so little in the second half.

While Liverpool will play a dozen fewer games now this season than last, they still have 17 more to play in this nightmare campaign.

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One of them is the return leg against Real. And who knows how Klopp approaches that one; it’s sandwiched between league fixtures with Bournemouth and Fulham, games Liverpool simply must be winning in order to push towards a top four finish.

Does Klopp go full strength, possibly still getting another defeat, or does he ‘do a Brendan Rodgers’ and rotate his lineup?

It’s the 16 league games though where we might get the better indication of Klopp’s longer-term thinking.

You could certainly argue that there’s little to gain from playing out-of-contract players like Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and even Roberto Firmino.

Is there value in using the squad more or will Klopp revert to type and play his best XI in an attempt to salvage a top-four finish? The problem there is that the best XI is often a case of who is playing the least badly rather than actually being in form. A prime example being Joel Matip or Joe Gomez in defence – neither would be the answer at the moment.

Tactically, how do Liverpool set up in the longer term with the attacking players they have? They actually look better and more suited to having Cody Gakpo central and Darwin Nunez on the left; it’s more like how Firmino and Sadio Mane operated before. But then how does Luis Diaz fit into that equation? If Diaz comes back in on the left, does Nunez move central and thus completely change the attacking set up? Nunez plays on the last line, whereas Gakpo drops deeper similar to Firmino’s role.

Other questions that need answering for the better good of the long term, too, like the roles of Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and Fabio Carvalho. Where do they fit in? What even are their best positions?

Speaking before the tie, Klopp said of watching back last May’s final against Carlo Ancelotti’s side: “You could see in this game how experienced Madrid is, how little they are fussed when the other team has chances. They don’t lose confidence in one second.”

Never did words prove so prophetic so quickly, Real barely looking fazed at 2-0 down after 14 minutes.

“They know their chance will come. They defend together,” Klopp had analysed. “That’s what you can learn from them, definitely.”

Liverpool can certainly learn plenty from Real Madrid in that respect.

Klopp can also learn from Liverpool’s own history and the great Bill Shankly on how he dismantled his first great team, a team that had provided the club with their first league titles in the modern era and the club’s first ever FA Cup.

Shankly made a mistake, going three trophy-less years when sticking by his great team, before an FA Cup defeat to Watford proved the final straw for the Scot. “The breaking-up process began there,” he later explained. “I knew I had to do my job and change the team. I had a duty to perform to myself, my family, Liverpool Football Club and the supporters.”

In explaining this story on Liverpool’s official website, and how Bob Paisley learned this lesson from Shankly, a passage reads that Liverpool “learned a crucial tool in ensuring their domination went unchallenged. That being – you replace players just as they are about to reach their peak. You do it one after another and you are always looking and ready to replace. You bring younger players through and you constantly change the team.

“That way you don’t notice the seamless transition; you don’t see the joins – and you reap the rewards on the field.”

Never has a history lesson been needed more than now at Anfield.

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