Jurgen Klopp may not get a golden swansong but his exit comes at the right time

Jurgen Klopp was denied a fitting European farewell when Liverpool were knocked out by Atalanta

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 19 April 2024 09:53 BST
Jurgen Klopp’s depature might come at the right time for Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp’s depature might come at the right time for Liverpool (Getty Images)

For a performance that ended as meekly as this, Jurgen Klopp was in a surprisingly buoyant mood. He was even joking about not complaining about fixtures any more, despite this defeat to Atalanta denying him that last chance at another European trophy. It was difficult not to feel the German had already been resigned to elimination in some way, which cuts a rather different figure to the defiant force that has so sensationally roused his teams before such games in the past.

It is also why a different sense of resignation might be seeping in around the club. Because, as deflated as everyone at Liverpool felt on that January afternoon when Klopp’s departure was announced, there may actually be a worse feeling. It is the idea that it might actually be time for such a great man to go.

Everyone can now see what he meant when he said he was “running out of energy”.

This certainly wasn’t how it was supposed to end, regardless of when it was going to end. It was supposed to be the great emotional farewell, that showed everyone what they were going to miss – but with even more feeling. Even another glorious near miss might have been fitting, since it would have added to the sense of this entire era as a romantic moral victory. There was certainly supposed to be a send-off in Dublin for the Europa League, regardless of what happened in the Premier League.

Liverpool instead never got close. Really, they were eliminated four games from the final, as Klopp admitted that the damage was done in the first leg.

That was what was so galling. Even though Liverpool actually had multiple chances in the first half of the second leg, it wasn’t like there was any great sense of regret. It just faded out. The team were a shadow of themselves.

Liverpool didn’t put up much of a fight against Atalanta (AP)

This was most personified by the sad sight of Mohammed Salah missing a chance he would usually finish without thinking, amid an otherwise ineffective display.

Klopp attempted to play this down afterwards, insisting it wasn’t a concern and that the Egyptian had missed opportunities like this in the past. That may be true, but the vast majority of those were before he joined Liverpool. We simply haven’t seen this since he became one of the surest things in football.

Salah instead dropped to the level of his fellow forwards here, and maybe below. If this was a player who for the first time looked like he might be past his best, his attacking partners were reminded they still have some way to go before they reach that level. All of Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, Cody Gakpo and even Diogo Jota here looked like what they are: promising players signed for their potential for growth, but not yet at the super-consistent standard required.

Liverpool were able to get around that when Salah was at his own usual level, lifting everyone. If he isn’t, Liverpool just look… well, like this. It was a team that had forgotten what they used to do so well. That showed they were mentally fatigued, as much as physically fatigued.

This is where it also gets a touch more concerning for Liverpool. It isn’t over yet.

There is still the very real chance of a Premier League title. They are only two points behind Manchester City, and actually play twice before the champions have another league game. That run of fixtures could reshape the psychology of this run-in. If Liverpool or Arsenal are ahead, with City suddenly feeling deflation after their own European elimination, it could be game on.

That means Klopp’s side need to get back switched on but that is something we haven’t properly seen in over a month. It raises the question of whether such performances are now even possible, or whether this burgeoning team have given all they can this season.

Liverpool will want to finish the season in triumphant fashion (Getty Images)

The reality is that this Liverpool team shouldn’t have been ready for a title challenge. It is the first full season of a new cycle, putting this current side at the point Klopp’s first great Reds team were in 2017. They immediately clicked to overperform, putting them ahead of everyone else at the top of the league.

That lent an air of excitement to this season anyway but maybe more about what was possible for the future. No one would have blamed them if they didn’t win. This was the exact same feeling throughout 2018, after all; that Liverpool were back on the rise. This new team had already risen above so much. The predictions for pre-season had simply been a return to the Champions League places and yet here they were surpassing that. It was all the more brilliant because it felt such a bonus.

The announcement of Klopp’s departure then changed everything. This season became about something else entirely – giving the great man the send-off he deserves. It was an enormous responsibility to put on a young team, even if Klopp never expected that himself. They are now visibly feeling the weight of it all.

Liverpool now need to lift themselves and be reminded that there is still another chance here, despite the way their Europa League campaign ended. Yet Klopp’s post-game comments are concerning. He was all too willing to answer a question about the demands of the Premier League, pointing to how its famous intensity was behind so many English eliminations from Europe this week.

Klopp embarked on familiar themes, like the fixture list. There was then a line that many in football picked up on when it went out on social media. “Thank God, not my problem any more.”

There are still six games left, though. “Anything can happen,” skipper Virgil van Dijk stressed.

It just doesn’t feel like everything is there in the same way as before. That may be wrong, of course, but Liverpool suddenly have so much to set right.

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