LIVERPOOL’S season has been unlike anything their fans could have imagined at the start of the campaign.
They’re ninth in the Premier League and were unceremoniously eliminated from the League Cup, one of the two trophies they won last season.
And unless they get their act together, which looks like a rather tall order at the moment, things could get worse.
The Reds and Manchester City have been the two best clubs in England over the past five years or so.
Yet tomorrow, they face Brighton and Hove Albion – opponents who thrashed them just a fortnight ago – in the FA Cup fourth round at the Amex Stadium, and are staring another defeat in the face.
Since that clash, Liverpool have chalked up a win over Wolves in an FA Cup third round replay and drew with Chelsea in the league.
There are all sorts of theories as to why Liverpool are nowhere near where people think they should be. But one telling factor is obvious – their injury list.
They have been scarred this season by key players being sidelined through long-term injuries. The likes of inspirational central defender Virgil van Dijk and strikers Luis Diaz, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota have been sorely missed.
The short-term intermittent absences of Joel Matip, Joe Gomes, Naby Keita, Thiago Alcantara, James Milner, Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, among others, have also taken their toll on the Anfield side.
Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo, on loan from Italian Serie A club Juventus, is also on the treatment table and has yet to get going for the club.
Darwin Nunez’s return to action as a substitute against Chelsea is a plus for the Reds and should certainly bolster their front line. Indeed, Liverpool’s lack of goals has been their undoing this season.
They are not even close to where they want to be in terms of goals. But the absence of Diaz, Firmino and Jota, and to some extent Nunez’s poor luck upfront, explains some of that.
One gets the feeling that if Jurgen Klopp can somehow get them scoring again, things will turn around for them. And what better way to start that than by seeing off a team that thumped them 3-0 the other day?
But Brighton are by far no pushovers and will rightly believe they can beat Liverpool, having done so already with the memory still fresh in the mind.
After Graham Potter left for Chelsea, there were more than a few people who thought they might slide down the ladder.
On the contrary, Roberto De Zerbi has instilled a renewed belief in the team and gotten them playing just as well, if not better.
In stark contrast to Liverpool’s scarcity of goals, the Seagulls have been knocking them in almost at will.
Since his arrival in early September, de Zerbi got his charges to register a 4-1 (league) win over Chelsea, a 3-1 (Carabao Cup) victory over Arsenal, as well as three other triumphs in which they scored three or more goals against Premier League opposition.
For good measure, they hit Middlesbrough for five in the last round of the FA Cup.
The contributions of Japanese winger Kaoru Mitoma, industrious midfielder Moises Caicedo, his German counterpart Pascal Grob, World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister and the emergence of Solly March as a real threat in front of goal cannot be underestimated.
There is no doubt the squad works as a compact and efficient unit, but these lads have stood out.
Against Liverpool, they will be wanting more of the same success, and if they stick to their game plan, they will likely win again.
Even if their last game did not have a goal to show for their efforts, the Reds will have been encouraged by their previous two outings.
Mohamed Salah, by his own lofty standards, has fallen short this season. He needs a solid, consistent run of form, punctuated by the goals we know he is capable of.
Nunez also needs to start finding the back of the net more regularly.
If they do, and a couple others come back from injury to weigh in with some support, then the Reds can start thinking about a decent second half of the season.
Signs of that in tomorrow’s FA Cup showdown would be welcome news to their fans. This club has so much pedigree that one cannot write off Liverpool just yet – not in a competition in which they are the reigning champions.