Talk of a crisis may be premature but Liverpool’s season is certainly in freefall after an FA Cup exit to Wolves heaped more scrutiny on Jurgen Klopp and his players.
The Championship side’s deserved 2-1 victory at Anfield, coming just three days after the Reds’ EFL Cup semifinal defeat to Southampton, only added to the growing despondency which has descended on the Merseyside club this month.
This year has not been kind to Liverpool with just one win — over League Two Plymouth in a third-round replay — in eight matches and the writing was on the wall after just 52 seconds when Richard Stearman headed home a free kick, albeit it from an initial offside position.
When an unmarked Andreas Weimann ran through the middle to easily round Loris Karius just before half-time the anger felt by the home crowd could only be exceeded by an agitated Klopp.
Divock Origi sparked a frantic last five minutes and then had a shot cleared off the line, but it was too little, too late.
In the space of four weeks Liverpool have gone from title contenders and being in two cup competitions, one of which they were 180 minutes from Wembley, to being left to fight for Champions League qualification with a slender two-point cushion over fifth-placed Manchester City.
Whatever Klopp’s complaints, however, the manager must shoulder some of the responsibility for the defeat against a team 18th in the division below after making nine changes from midweek with only Karius and forward Roberto Firmino surviving.
Wolves themselves made seven changes including 20-year-old Harry Burgoyne, who with just two league appearances behind him was the replacement for the suspended Carl Ikeme, but he did not have a save to make until substitute Philippe Coutinho’s tame shot on the hour.
Klopp will point to the hectic schedule his team have faced — Tuesday’s visit of Premier League leaders Chelsea will be their 10th match in 32 days — and yet more officiating decisions going against them but there can be no excuses for the way his team have fallen away so badly.
In the first minute Wolves won a free kick wide on the right. Helder Costa managed to steal 10 yards to make a more acute angle so when he swung in his cross Karius was caught in two minds whether to come for it or not.
The German opted for the latter and Stearman, who started in an offside position, took advantage to head home his first goal in English football since April 21, 2014.
Costa almost silenced Anfield with a 70-yard unopposed run only to slice a shot wide under pressure from 17-year-old Ben Woodburn who had tracked him all the way.
But the warning was not heeded and when Firmino gave away possession on the edge of Wolves’ area three minutes before half-time the ball was quickly switched to Costa wide right who, after Alberto Moreno completely missed his tackle, threaded through a pass for Weimann to score just a matter of seconds later.
Georginio Wijnaldum had a justifiable penalty shout turned down after a challenge from Weimann but Liverpool ended the half with 79 percent possession and not a shot on target to show for it.
Klopp sent on Coutinho for right-back Connor Randall, on his first appearance of the season, with a switch to a three-man defence and when Firmino’s header was deflected wide by team-mate Ragnar Klavan from Woodburn’s free kick it appeared an improvement was just around the corner.
The introduction of Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can made little difference, although Liverpool did get one back late on when Origi volleyed home from close range.
Wolves would have scored a third through substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson had it not been for Karius’ point-blank save and they held on for a shock win after Burgoyne denied Origi on the line.