Jurgen Klopp must lift Liverpool’s shattered spirits as the Reds aim to bounce back from their latest European setback in a crucial Merseyside derby against resurgent Everton on Sunday.
Marco Silva takes Everton to Anfield with the blue half of Merseyside looking for their first victory on their hated neighbours’ turf since 1999.
Everton enter the weekend in sixth place in the Premier League, having recorded five victories and just one defeat in their last seven games.
Their optimism stands in contrast to the first real signs of problems in Klopp’s camp this season.
While Liverpool remain unbeaten in the league, and stood two points behind leaders Manchester City ahead of the weekend fixtures, successive away defeats in their Champions League group at Red Star Belgrade and Paris Saint-Germain have raised questions about their trophy-winning potential.
Roberto Firmino was the latest member of last season’s impressive Liverpool forward line to come in for criticism following a 2-1 defeat in Paris on Wednesday which leaves his team facing an anxious final group game against Napoli as they seek to guarantee progress to the knock-out stages.
The Brazilian forward has managed to hit the net only three times in 13 Premier League games to date this season and, in comparison to his 15 last term, Firmino’s productivity has certainly dipped.
Among many factors put forward for Liverpool’s slight drop off in attacking prowess, fatigue seems one of the most obvious, with Klopp adamant that he will maintain strong bids for success in both the Premier and Champions Leagues.
Liverpool have played 18 games in both competitions to date, with Firmino and Mohamed Salah having featured in every one of them. Sadio Mane has missed just one.
– Winning formula –
But, after starting the season with seven consecutive wins inside the opening six weeks, Liverpool have won five times in 12 league and cup games in the 10 weeks since.
Reds defender Virgil van Dijk is at a loss to explain Liverpool’s issues of late, but he refuses to panic.
“We don’t need to think we are a s*** team, basically. It can happen. But the frustrating thing is how we conceded the goals and then it’s always difficult to come back,” he said.
“I don’t know if there’s any explanation for that right now because I can’t think of one, otherwise we should have used it already.”
Liverpool remain 11 points ahead of Everton and haven’t lost to the Toffees since 2010, but their slump has come just as their local rivals have put together their best run of the campaign.
Following a disappointing time last season, in which Everton struggled through three different managers in Ronald Koeman, caretaker David Unsworth and then Sam Allardyce, Silva finally appears to have discovered a winning formula at Goodison Park.
Silva’s summer swoop for Brazilian Richarlison from his former club Watford has proved an unqualified success with the 21-year-old forward the club’s joint leading league scorer with six goals.
Significantly, two of Everton’s three defeats have come when Richarlison has been missing from Silva’s line-up, an indication of his importance to his new team’s style of play.
Everton’s other principle attacking talent, and joint-leading scorer, is Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The Iceland midfielder has recovered from a disappointing debut season on Merseyside and is back to the form that made his name at Swansea.
“He is understanding better now what I want, the moves he has to do, what positions and spaces on the pitch he has to receive the ball,” Silva said.
“He’s a very good player with a lot of quality who can arrive well in the box, like I like. And he is a fantastic professional to work with.
“He gives 100 per cent every day on the training ground and it is easy to understand how he can work as well during the match.”