The words ‘Klopp’ and ‘stubborn’ could be found in combination over and over again on Twitter on Monday night.
As soon as the team line-up dropped for their crunch clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford, many Liverpool fans were overcome with a sense of foreboding.
Even taking into account the absence of several regulars through injury and suspension, there were immediate questions asked about Klopp’s choices in midfield, his blind loyalty to certain players no matter what and the youthful complexion of the bench.
Someone pointed out that Liverpool’s starting XI at Old Trafford carried only two changes from a team that played at Leicester on September 1, 2018 – almost four years ago.
The only differences were that Luis Diaz had replaced Sadio Mane on the left side of the forward three and Harvey Elliott was in for Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield.
To many, it spoke of a worrying lack of evolution in the Liverpool ranks over a substantial chunk of Klopp’s reign and an unwillingness to move beyond players now past their peak.
That’s pretty unfair on Klopp, who was without Thiago Alcantara, Diogo Jota, Ibrahima Konate and Darwin Nunez for the match – all players signed in recent seasons to refresh the team.
But whatever the pro and con arguments, Liverpool emerged 90 minutes later battered, bruised and below United in 16th position in the early season Premier League table.
Despite Mohamed Salah’s late goal offering hope they might pinch an undeserved point, Liverpool were comprehensively second best to their rivals, who blew them away with a ferocity and intensity not seen to that point under Erik ten Hag.
They have just two points from the first nine available – having drawn with Fulham and Crystal Palace prior to this defeat – and their hopes of challenging Manchester City for the title already look slim.
Their slump is all the more surprising given how impressive they looked in beating City 3-1 to claim the Community Shield in late July.
So what are the reasons for their underpowered opening to the season and can Klopp easily put it right?
Are they suffering from a Champions League final hangover?
When Liverpool touched down in Bangkok for the first leg of their pre-season tour, captain Jordan Henderson insisted a line had been drawn under their Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
‘We have had disappointments in the past and didn’t have hangovers so we have always reacted in the right way,’ he said.
But it could be argued Liverpool are still suffering some after-effects from the implosion of their Quadruple dreams in the final weeks of last season.
Having got themselves half-way there by lifting the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup, Klopp’s side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to City on the final day and then lost 1-0 in Paris.
There was enormous hype and expectation when the historic Quadruple was still on, only for them to miss out on the two prizes they cherished most.
It’s only natural some of this disappointment has lingered into the new campaign and is a factor in the sluggish start they have made.
It must be really tough for any professional player to lift themselves to go once again having gone so near and yet so far.
Are injuries responsible for the slow start?
The early season injury pile-up is hardly helping matters though Klopp wouldn’t wish it to become an excuse for their underwhelming performance at Old Trafford.
Thiago, Joel Matip and Jota would have started against United but were sidelined with knocks, while Nunez was suspended following his headbutt on Palace defender Joachim Andersen.
They’re all integral players and would have improved the side, not least with a presence in midfield and a cutting edge in attack when chances did come their way.
All will return in a few games’ time, with home fixtures against Bournemouth and Newcastle offering a decent opportunity to get that first win chalked up in the meantime.
Yet last season United and others would have looked enviously at Liverpool’s strength in depth, so they should have the means to cope with a few absentees and be getting better results and performances than this.
Is Klopp too loyal to his players?
The comparison between the two Liverpool teams four years apart suggested that Klopp is too loyal to the likes of Milner, Henderson and Roberto Firmino.
Loyalty is an under-rated commodity in football and continuity of selection has been a key factor in Liverpool’s successes in the Premier League and Champions League.
But there comes a point where it crosses a line into stubbornness, as so many disgruntled fans were quick to point out.
Again you must consider the caveat of the injury situation here but did Firmino, whose returns have been diminishing for a long time now, offer a better option than quick youngster Fabio Carvalho pushed forward?
Did Klopp expect Milner, at the age of 36, to get a better grip on the midfield battle than Fabinho, who started the night on the bench?
And Henderson lasted just an hour, having failed to make much impact, before he was replaced by Fabinho, with the tiring Milner allowed to remain on for another 15 minutes.
The very similar line-ups from 2018 and 2022 may point to Liverpool becoming a bit stagnant under Klopp, of not moving forward enough.
Whether that accusation is a fair one or not is for Liverpool fans to debate.
Should they have signed a midfielder over the summer?
The Reds have used the summer window mainly to make changes to their attack.
Sadio Mane is, of course, the biggest profile departure and was Liverpool’s second-highest scorer last season with 23 in all competitions.
The £65m spent on Nunez is an emphatic statement – especially in a summer when City signed one of the world’s best in Erling Haaland – but it’s clear from his sending off last week he’ll need to bed in to English football.
As many feared, Mane will be a tough act to follow, not only for the quantity of goals he scores but for the innate understanding he’d developed with Salah and Firmino.
But it’s becoming more and more obvious that Liverpool should have moved for another midfielder as well over the summer.
It’s asking a lot for any one of their midfield options – Thiago, Keita, Henderson, Fabinho and certainly Milner – to withstand 30-odd games in the Premier League as well as Champions League and other cup commitments.
These opening weeks have shown it only takes an injury to a key player or two and Liverpool are coming off second-best in a midfield battle to a low-on-confidence United, let alone the likes of City, Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham.
With just over a week remaining before deadline day, it’s probably too late to dip back into the market for quality reinforcements now but if Liverpool play as many games as they did last season, it could come back to haunt them.
Why won’t Klopp adapt to different situations?
Liverpool have been a force of nature under Klopp and in the vast majority of games they simply overwhelm the opposition and go on to victory.
But this does sometimes lead to some inflexibility. Klopp should have reined in his high defensive line as soon as he saw the United teamsheet on Monday night.
There was a warning only last week when Wilfried Zaha raced away to score for Palace at Anfield and Liverpool’s defence was caught flat-footed here as well.
They were troubled by Marcus Rashford, Anthony Elanga and Jadon Sancho running directly at and in behind them, and likewise with Anthony Martial when he came on at half-time.
Liverpool had already got away with it on a couple of occasions prior to Martial sending Rashford scampering away for United’s second on 53 minutes.
How often are Liverpool’s defenders going to just leave it to Alisson to bail them out with a save in the one-on-one situation they’ve permitted?
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez looked far from convincing as a central defensive pair in Matip’s absence.
The Dutch defender is usually imperious but had an off-night at Old Trafford and was rightly singled out for criticism by Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports for standing off Sancho as he slotted the ball home for United’s first.
‘He was literally stood there… it’s one where you’ve got to go flying out and just throw yourself at him,’ Carragher said.
Milner stormed up to Van Dijk afterwards and gave him a real piece of his mind but the rollicking didn’t seem to do the trick.
With that being said, it wasn’t Van Dijk’s fault the back line had been set up to fail against a United attack bristling with pace and menace.
Why are the wing-backs off the boil?
Liverpool’s wing-backs – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson – were a great source of creativity last season, contributing 25 assists between them.
Their crossing and cut-back abilities provided another source of inspiration to the midfielders and attacking players, often at crucial times.
But both have made low-key openings to the season and were off the boil against United. Alexander-Arnold in particular struggled to cope with Tyrell Malacia and Anthony Elanga tearing at him, while Robertson couldn’t handle Rashford.
Alexander-Arnold came in for some criticism for allowing Vinicius Jr in at the back post for Real Madrid’s winner in the Champions League final and it may have knocked his confidence.
Both will come back into form but it’s just another worry for Klopp in these difficult early stages of the campaign.