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klopp woe The key reasons I believe Liverpool have gone from Premier League champions to title also-rans

Liverpool are not spent force in long term but league hopes done for

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Mo Salah will be looking to add to his 15 league goals today.

Mo Salah will be looking to add to his 15 league goals today.

Mo Salah will be looking to add to his 15 league goals today.

What has gone wrong for Liverpool?

It's a question that has been debated and analysed in the build-up to what should have been a crucial game in the Premier League title race against Manchester City today.

As it turns out, Manchester United fans will be in the rare position of cheering on Liverpool to get a win against City, as Jurgen Klopp's men have given themselves way too much to do to get back in the title race after Wednesday night's home defeat against Brighton.

City will be ten points ahead of the champions if they win their game in hand and, even if Liverpool beat them this afternoon at Anfield, Klopp will be relying on Pep Guardiola's title favourites losing three games between now and the end of the season to open the door.

It's hard to know how a team that swept all before them in the Premier League last season are now looking unlikely to retain their crown - and at just the halfway stage too. But I have put together five big factors that help to explain Liverpool's slide.

Liverpool finally made a move to sign a defender on transfer deadline day last Monday, but it was too little, too late, for Jurgen Klopp.

The injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez meant Liverpool should have been in the market to sign a defender on day one of last month's transfer window. But it looked like the owners were not going to sanction any transfer until Joel Matip got his latest injury at Tottenham last week.

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Fans are suffering at the moment.

Fans are suffering at the moment.

Fans are suffering at the moment.

There is a good chance Liverpool would not have signed Ozan Kabak from Schalke and Ben Davies from Preston on deadline day without Matip's injury, but I don't see these late moves saving their title challenge.

Winning the league in a season when his three senior centre-backs have all been ruled out for large parts of the campaign would be a miracle and it looks like it will be beyond Klopp.

Fan power

We are all missing fans at sporting occasions, but Liverpool have been impacted more than most teams.

Anfield is one of the toughest places in world football to come for a visiting team, with the Liverpool fans as vocal as any in the game and they offer an intimidation factor that is a massive help for the home side.

That has been sadly lacking this season and the last four home games have highlighted how badly the supporters have been missed.

West Brom, Manchester United, Burnley and Brighton could all have come away from Anfield with a 1-0 win and while only the last two have done that, Liverpool have not had the unifying support of the fans to drive them on.

Klopp's side have lost their 12th man and the missing spectators have been just as crucial as the injuries to key players.

The Thiago question

Thiago Alcantara is a world-class footballer. But it's also hard to deny he has yet to find his best role in this Liverpool team.

His return from injury in late-December has coincided with the team's slump in form and while I wouldn't blame the Spanish midfielder for it, there may be a link.

Thiago has been trying to play the role Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum executed so magnificently over the last couple of seasons and he is not cut out for it.

To get the best out of Thiago, Klopp needs to get the player signed from Bayern Munich last summer in a more advanced position, threading balls through to the front three and cracking teams open.

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Matip took a knock last week while van Dijk (right) has been out for months.

Matip took a knock last week while van Dijk (right) has been out for months.

Matip took a knock last week while van Dijk (right) has been out for months.

His passing ability is second to none. Yet he is not being effective in the area of the pitch where Klopp needs him and if that doesn't change, he may have to revert to the Henderson, Fabinho and Wijnaldum combination and use Thiago from the bench.

Guardiola factor

Regular readers of my Sunday World column will know that I have questioned Pep Guardiola's bottle in the heat of battle, but the Man City boss has proved me wrong in the last few weeks.

Guardiola allowed the pressure to get to him and his team when it was applied by Liverpool last term.

And also when the heat came on him in the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years, but a title success this season may be his most impressive yet.

He could see that Manchester City needed to find defensive stability, a Plan B they never had before.

It helps being given £60m to buy a defender every year, but City have found a good one in big Ruben Dias and his signing last summer solved some of their defensive problems.

Now they are only winning games 1-0 or 2-0 most weeks and not beating teams by five or six, but they are pulling clear at the top of the table.

City have won 13 games in a row in all competitions heading into today's game at Anfield and for me, Guardiola deserves a lot of the credit for modifying their game plan and finding a way to win without Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero.

Liverpool rattled City last season as they won game after game and Guardiola's side buckled under the pressure.

Now the roles have been reversed and Liverpool are the team looking shaky and may need to find a Plan B of their own.

Liverpool heads gone

A positive mentality is such a big factor in sport and it looks like Liverpool's heads have gone at the moment.

The confidence and self-belief that saw them sweep teams aside just last season has now been replaced with uncertainty and tension.

Also, the opposition sense blood and they believe that they have worked out a way to get at Liverpool.

Put those two elements together and you have a mix that has contributed to four successive poor results on home soil, with Burnley and Brighton following very similar game plans to grind out their victories.

Nullifying the threat of Liverpool's full-backs takes a lot of their attacking potency away and with the front three not firing, problems are appearing everywhere.

Liverpool are not a spent force by any means as they still have a world-class manager and incredible players in this team. But we need to see them emerge from their slump quickly.

My verdict on today's big game

Manchester City don't need to win at Anfield today and that could affect how they approach the game.

We have seen Pep Guardiola adopt cautious tactics against Liverpool in recent meetings, as he was left scarred by the 5-1 Champions League drubbing handed out to his team three seasons ago.

Since then, he has changed his tactics and played with the handbrake on against Jurgen Klopp's side, showing them great respect in the process.

It has led to some pretty tight matches between the Premier League's top two sides over the last couple of years, with the 0-0 draw at Anfield a couple of seasons back a snapshot of what I expect to see today.

On that occasion, Guardiola played it tight and if Riyad Mahrez had coverted a late penalty, City would have executed the perfect plan to win 1-0.

I'd expect Pep to do something similar this afternoon and it will be up to Liverpool to hold firm defensively and hope their forward players are firing.

One of the new signings Ozan Kabak or Ben Davies should play alongside Fabinho (if he is fit) and get Jordan Henderson back in midfield, but we just don't know what we are going to get from Liverpool at this moment.

We got used to their brilliance over a sustained period of time, but now they have big questions to answer and we wait to see how Liverpool respond in the face of adversity.

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