Liverpool’s Premier League title defence lies in tatters after defeat to Manchester City left them 10 points off the pace.It was the first time since 1963 the Reds had lost three successive home league matches and a team which was top at Christmas is now fourth and looking over their shoulder at the sides with Champions League qualification aspirations.
The PA news agency looks at what comes next for Jurgen Klopp’s side.Why are Liverpool so far off the pace?Liverpool are 27 points worse off than this stage last season and have conceded almost twice as many goals (PA graphic)The comparison with the same stage last season is striking, and shows how far Liverpool have slipped back from their admittedly record-setting form. They had 67 points from a possible 69 after 23 games last term, responding to their only dropped points against Manchester United with 14 of what became a record-equalling 18 successive wins. This term, their longest run is three straight wins to start the campaign and they are 27 points behind last season’s pace after 11 wins – half as many as the equivalent point – with seven draws and five defeats.What’s the reason for the marked drop off?Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane’s goal return has dipped (Peter Powell/PA)They have scored 10 goals fewer and while Mohamed Salah’s 16 league goals is well ahead of his 2019-20 pace (nine), Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are down from 11 and eight respectively to seven and six. The chief issue is the 29 goals conceded is almost double last season’s tally of 15, underpinned by nine clean sheets, at this point. Only six shut-outs in the current campaign and none in the last five matches can be attributed to the injury issues at the back and particularly the loss of Virgil Van Dijk, the defensive anchor who had also scored four goals by January last year.Time to go Becker to basics?Liverpool cannot afford for goalkeeper Alisson Becker to have a confidence crisis (Jon Super/PA)Liverpool have enough problems to deal with without having a crisis of confidence over their goalkeeper. Alisson has kept 49 clean sheets in 112 matches for the club (44 per cent) but this season it is eight in 24 (33 per cent). Usually so good with his feet, Klopp will not ask him to change after his two errors against City – although he has told the goalkeeper to kick the ball into the stands if he thinks he is in trouble.When will the new centre-backs be ready?View this post on InstagramA post shared by Ozan Kabak (@ozankabak4)Liverpool need Alisson’s best more than ever as Klopp is likely to field at least one of his deadline-day signings against Leicester on Saturday. Ozan Kabak looks most likely to be ahead of former Preston captain Ben Davies given his Bundesliga experience. Klopp will have had 10 days in which to get the pair ready for the challenge of facing a fit-again Jamie Vardy but the introduction of a genuine central defender cannot be delayed any longer.What impact will that have?Tough one to take yesterday. This is a time we need to stick together and get through this difficult period. Sometimes you can learn more from these times and we will give everything to change our current situation. You’ll never walk alone. pic.twitter.com/YlbBXku0Tt— Jordan Henderson (@JHenderson) February 8, 2021It is difficult to see how it will weaken further a defence which has kept two clean sheets in 11 matches and won just three games – one against Aston Villa’s youth team in the FA Cup. It gives Klopp the chance to move Jordan Henderson, at least, back into midfield where his influence and drive has been sorely missed in the pressing game plan.How important are Klopp’s man-management skills now?Klopp has to find a way to re-energise his side (Clive Rose/PA)The man who famously arrived at Anfield pledging to turn “doubters into believers” must deal with the first sign of self-doubt creeping into the dressing room. The Premier League’s top scorer Salah is the only player still regularly delivering but even he does not look close to his best while Mane is struggling and Firmino looks a shadow of the player he was. Defender Trent Alexander-Arnold appears lost going forward and tentative defensively.