Liverpool run out of steam, title hopes evaporate at Everton

Jurgen Klopp hugged Everton manager Sean Dyche, patted his Liverpool players on the back and then disappeared down the players’ tunnel with 38,000 Evertonians singing “You lost the league at Goodison Park” at full volume. Klopp didn’t need the reminder. The manager knew it was all over for him and for Liverpool.

Having been so desperate to step down from Liverpool at the end of this season with the Premier League trophy back at Anfield, Klopp must now face up to a long, empty farewell.

In the space of five weeks, hopes of a quadruple have evaporated with elimination from the FA Cup against Manchester United and the Europa League against Atalanta. That left Liverpool with only the Premier League available to add to the Carabao Cup they won against Chelsea in February.

But the league trophy has now pretty much disappeared over the horizon after this 2-0 defeat at Everton on Wednesday. Mathematically Liverpool can still win the title, but reality suggests something else.

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Everton’s win was their first home victory in the Merseyside derby since 2010, but it meant so much more than three points for Dyche’s team in their battle for Premier League survival. With Liverpool needing to win to move level with league leaders Arsenal and keep alive their hopes of finishing the season as champions, the joy of victory for Everton was all about wrecking their bitter rivals’ chances.

Everton’s win was a fully deserved one following goals from Jarrad Branthwaite and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Not only did it leave Liverpool as rank outsiders to pip Arsenal and Manchester City to the title, it also ended Klopp’s hopes of a glorious farewell as manager at Anfield. Klopp is vacating his post at the end of the season, with Feyenoord coach Arne Slot emerging as the leading candidate to replace him.

Klopp has looked drained of energy in recent weeks as a run of four wins in nine games has derailed his team’s season. Liverpool have dropped 10 points in their past seven games — they only dropped seven in their previous 14 — so Klopp’s formidable powers of motivation have diminished as his personal finish line approaches.

There’s a saying that once you think about quitting, you have already quit. Klopp would argue to the contrary, but those numbers point to everyone at Anfield beginning to switch off, subconsciously or otherwise. The result of that loss of focus and motivation was there for all to see on the pitch at Goodison.

Everton simply ran harder, fought harder, played smarter and wanted it more than their opponents. Klopp had never lost a derby at Goodison going into his final one, but he will never be able to shake off the memory of his last visit to Liverpool’s near neighbour.

Having heralded his “mentality monsters” so many times during his nine years as Liverpool manager, Klopp saw those same players shrink against more determined opponents. Mohamed Salah was anonymous, Darwin Núñez wasteful in front of goal once again and Dominik Szoboszlai unable to get into the game in midfield. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson were also unusually lacking in fight and quality in defence.

Klopp’s success at Anfield has been rooted in his ability to inspire his players to play with the energy and positivity that he has always projected from the sideline. But when he announced his decision to quit in January, he cited fatigue as a primary factor in his decision. That fatigue is now being manifested in his players, who failed to score for a third time in five games while falling to their third defeat in that same sequence.

“We created chances, but don’t score enough and that doesn’t help,” Klopp said in his post-match news conference. “You have to fight through these periods, that’s never different. It’s not a question of attitude, nobody is doing it on purpose, but it’s my job to make them confident to do it. That’s the most tricky part of football.”

Klopp is running out of time to turn the situation around. Liverpool have four games left to play and Arsenal are three points clear with a hugely superior goal difference. Manchester City are a point behind in third, but they have played two games fewer than Liverpool and can move into second with a draw at Brighton on Thursday.

Klopp knows it is virtually over, saying Liverpool need both Arsenal and City to have a “crisis” if they are claw their way back into the title race.

But the most painful aspect of the defeat at Everton may be in the fact that Dyche’s team won with plenty to spare.

Branthwaite’s opening goal on 27 minutes, a close-range shot that squirmed under goalkeeper Alisson Becker before going in off the post, came after a period of Everton dominance, while Calvert-Lewin showed more purpose and desire than any red-shirted opponent to head in from a corner on 58 minutes. Luis Díaz hit a post late on for Liverpool, but they rarely looked like getting back into the game, and the same can be said for their chances of winning the title.

Liverpool’s title hopes were already fading before this trip to Goodison, but as he headed down the tunnel, Klopp knew the Everton fans were right. This is where the title was finally lost and where his reign as Liverpool manager entered its dying days.