Neil Humphreys: Reality check for Klopp's Reds
FA Cup defeat by United offers worrying signs for once-dominant Liverpool
Empires are not supposed to end before they have barely begun. But the Liverpool era threatens to be remembered for its brevity.
Manchester United, once the dominant force for almost 20 years, may be poised to leave behind the dominant force of the last two years.
And already, just three paragraphs in, seething Reds will be ready to dismiss such a claim as the sensationalist musings of a headline seeker.
But there was no pleasure in watching Liverpool's FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The 3-2 scoreline didn't particularly matter. The tournament was of little consequence.
But the options available to both managers - and the reasons - hint at a changing of the guard.
A single mistake from poor Rhys Williams felt like a trailer for what's to come.
He should not have been playing. At 19, he's obviously one for the future. But, in the present, the gangly centre-back was left stranded and exposed as Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw ran him over.
Williams will get better, but not quickly enough to save this season. And that's not his fault. The shoulders of a skinny teenager with only one English Premier League start cannot be expected to prop up a fledgling dynasty.
That responsibility lies with Liverpool's owners, coaching staff and senior players, who are all culpable to a degree, fairly or otherwise.
Let's start with the senior players. The odds of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all picking up injuries at the same time were slim but not entirely unexpected.
Liverpool toiled through 2½ years of relentless pressing, at home and abroad, in their peerless quest for domestic, European and global superiority. It was a sight to behold.
But the pandemic disrupted pre-season preparations and increased the risk of muscle injuries and late, clumsy tackles for everyone. And yet, Liverpool's owners erred on the side of caution.
A sensible, long-term transfer policy had previously worked brilliantly, so the club's prudence was understandable in an economic downturn.
But it's becoming painfully apparent that Liverpool cannot have it both ways, as the FA Cup defeat demonstrated. In balancing the books, the Reds have an unbalanced defence (a problem that has persisted for months).
As always, the idiotic "Klopp out" hashtags trending on social media miss the point entirely. Juergen Klopp has arguably performed a miracle of sorts in keeping Liverpool within touching distance.
The Reds have managed just one win in their last seven games - against Aston Villa's youth players in the FA Cup, no less - but they have no senior centre-backs available. None.
A casual drift is now a malaise, tiptoeing towards an internal crisis.
Is that too melodramatic? When United usurp Liverpool in English football, it's a crisis around Anfield. Few would pretend otherwise.
Fiscal pragmatism and successful teams are uneasy bedfellows, especially when another club, the only club that really matters to the Reds, are moving on.
And if the prospect of United overtaking Liverpool feels unpalatable on Merseyside, it's not exactly welcomed in the neutral corners of the game either.
A sport being played behind closed doors in a bid to convince us that any of this still matters needs its biggest brands competing, now more than ever.
Obviously, the pressure on the Reds to maintain their lofty standards is unprecedented, being the first EPL club to mount a title defence during a global crisis.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola had to deal with each other during their imperial phase. Only Klopp has to deal with Covid-19 during his. Perspective should never be lost.
But, as long as the season continues, the Reds could cheer us up a bit by signing a centre-back and having a real crack at the whole dynasty thing.
Liverpool needed 30 years to knock United off their perch. It would be a real shame if the Red Devils returned the favour in a fraction of the time.
The Klopp era deserves something more than a premature decline.