Jurgen Klopp attempted to deliver one of those answers that carried authority and assurance but, this time, the words felt hollow.
Asked about the potential for confidence to be irreparably damaged by the most sobering Anfield night in Liverpool‘s European history, Klopp looked up from underneath his baseball cap and did his best to argue to the contrary.
‘That is absolutely not allowed,’ he said, his tone low. ‘If you don’t learn the start was outstanding and was us in a nutshell, if we allow this one game to be influential, we are really silly. We have a few days when I make sure we take the right things.
‘Yes we have a few things to improve: third goal, massively; first goal massively. But the intensity, the effort we showed… the football was like everything we want to see. We have to make sure we keep that; 5-2 could be damaging but I have to make sure that is not happening.’
Good luck. There are only so many blows one group can take and the pummelling Liverpool suffered at Real Madrid’s hands made you think of a boxer, heaving on his haunches after taking one fight too many – muscle memory and a glorious past mean nothing when you can’t defend yourself.
Jurgen Klopp looked almost haunted by what he’d seen against Real Madrid on Tuesday
The Reds were torn apart having led the game 2-0 and slumped to a 5-2 defeat
This was Liverpool’s eleventh defeat of the campaign, in all competitions, and they are getting uglier. Naples in September should have been as bad it good but the past month – with horror shows at Brentford, Brighton and Wolves – has been utterly appalling.
At many other clubs, Klopp’s would be teetering on the brink after such a ruinous sequence but there is no potential for a sacking – nor should there be; there isn’t a better manager in the world for Liverpool and those with a bloodlust to see a man lose his job would be advised to look elsewhere.
Still, past deeds don’t make him exempt from criticism and it has baffled how Liverpool have continually made the same mistakes this season, enabling opponents to run through their middle and ransack them. Klopp can dispute the lasting impact on confidence but it is there for all to see.
‘If you concede five goals there has to be an inquest into why and how,’ former captain Steven Gerrard said on BT Sport. ‘It will be raw off the back of that defeat. Liverpool don’t concede five goals at Anfield. There will be soul searching and looking in the mirror. It wasn’t good enough.’
What it was, strangely enough, was educational. It actually made you realise the task in front of Klopp is bigger than the one that confronted him when he first arrived on these shores in October 2015, bursting with vim and vigour. That statement is not made lightly.
Famously, he turned ‘doubters to believers’ but the believers have now become doubters and the mood has changed. An issue at Anfield these days is that expectation in the crowd reigns and the crackle of anticipation, a symbol of the beginning of all exciting journeys, has disappeared.
Klopp made Liverpool such a potent force with an element of surprise. He transformed the hungry young men he inherited and added individuals, such as Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane, who knew they could improve.
Liverpool were smart, taking players who were not necessarily priorities for their rivals. It’s hard to make the same kind of deals when you have climbed to the top of the mountain and, furthermore, they are heading into a summer window with uncertainty behind the scenes.
Liverpool fans who Klopp turned from doubters to believers are now doubters again
There were calamitous mistakes and Alisson was responsible for the second goal
Julian Ward’s imminent departure as Sporting Director, after less than a year in the post, is the clearest indication of discord. Paul Mitchell, once of Tottenham and most recently with Monaco, has had his name mentioned with the post but nothing more.
Whoever takes the role will face huge challenges as there will be a premium on the men Liverpool pursue. Never mind Jude Bellingham, bolstering the defence is just as much a priority – should they not be chasing RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol? – given their assistance to Madrid’s forwards.
What happens in the summer will be fascinating but what happens in the months in between will be just as a significant because Liverpool look utterly broken and the collapse in the second half, as the stunned silence of home fans became deafening, was symptomatic.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is certainly not a scapegoat for the result but, again, you watched him last night and wondered where that force of nature with a smile as bright as his manager’s has gone. This drop in form has been too long and too pronounced not to be viewed seriously.
Joe Gomez’s confidence has crashed, Virgil van Dijk started brightly but looked empty by the end. The midfield – once described, so colourfully, as ‘hunting dogs’ by Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez – don’t seem capable of snapping and biting their way through big games and the forward line is raw.
Put all those ingredients together and you can see why the only probability is more days of intense pain before the end of the season and that gloomy prospect draws a neat parallel with what happened the last time Liverpool lost by three clear goals to a Spanish team.
The way Eder Militao stole in to head home from a free-kick unopposed was ridiculous
This now looks an even harder rebuilding job for Klopp than it was when he took over
When Klopp spoke after Liverpool were beaten 3-0 by Barcelona in May 2019, you got the sense that he knew – despite what everyone was thinking – that the odds could be overcome.
His faith in his squad was unshakable and, spending time in his presence, the conviction he had transmitted.
Now, while Klopp said the right words, the conviction was absent. There is an air of resignation now, the juddering feeling that the end of the line has been reached.
Gone are those days when confidence would blow the best of the best away. Doubt and anguish, painfully, have returned to town.