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Why I believe Liverpool are in the midst of a slump that needs to end now

Now there is talk of a crisis and while I wouldn’t go that far yet, there are certainly some worrying signs.

Klopp© PA

John AldridgeSunday World

Last Wednesday’s 4-1 Champions League defeat against Napoli was one of the low points of Jurgen Klopp’s reign as manager as so many elements of his team misfired.

They lacked intensity in the midfield, looked horribly exposed defensively – and the focus we have associated with this team over the last few years was sadly lacking.

We can go through each member of the team and ask what has happened to their form, but I feel there is collective fatigue that stems back to what they came so close to achieving last season.

Liverpool were still in the mix to be the first team to do the quadruple heading into the final few weeks of the campaign, but they came up short in the two competitions that matter most.

The FA Cup and League Cup are sitting proudly in the Anfield trophy room, but they wanted the Premier League and Champions League alongside them.

They came up agonisingly short in the domestic title race against Manchester City, and then got turned over by Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

Those setbacks were hard to take – and starting all over again with the same enthusiasm was never going to be easy.

Sadio Mane’s exit was a problem – and, once again, Klopp’s transfer budget was dependent on how much money came in from player sales.

While his rivals were spending big, I’m sure the Liverpool boss would have wanted to put £100 million on the table and try to get Jude Bellingham out of Borussia Dortmund, but that’s not how the club’s owners operate.

So a squad that may have needed a little shake-up probably didn’t get as much treatment as it needed, and that’s hurting them now.

Now there is talk of a crisis and while I wouldn’t go that far yet, there are certainly some worrying signs.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is now being targeted by the opposition. Photo: Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images© NurPhoto via Getty Images

What we are seeing from top-quality players like Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk are performances that look a little groggy.

They are physically fit and in their minds they are ready to go again, but the deflation from how last season ended will still be with them.

So when I look at Salah struggling to make an impact in recent games, I wonder whether he had a long enough break in the summer to get the disappointments of last season out of his system.

Salah has been poor in recent games and that pattern continued in the Everton game last weekend and the defeat in Napoli.

Then you look at the defensive area of the Liverpool team and it has been a massive problem so far.

From the first game of the season – at Fulham, when they let in three goals – you could see the balance of the team was not right.

The absence of key midfielders due to injury has played a part in that defensive fragility, with Thiago, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson all missing at times in recent weeks.

Klopp has gone with Harvey Elliott and James Milner in there, but it hasn’t really worked – and the high defensive line Liverpool like to play has been exposed.

Everton looked so dangerous on the break in the derby game at Goodison Park last weekend and Napoli nailed it in the way they executed their plan to win with plenty to spare.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (left) is not playing to his usual high standards. Photo: Agostino Gemito/PA Wire.© PA

Van Dijk is being questioned for the first time – and the criticism is justified, as he has lacked focus and looked a little sleepy at times.

Then you look at Alexander-Arnold and it’s clear that the opposition view him as a weak spot in this Liverpool team, and are going after him at every opportunity.

Going forward, Trent is still one of the best attacking players in the game, but he has also looked asleep at times, and the opposition has got joy down his side.

Manchester United were all over him in their 2-1 win against Liverpool at Old Trafford last month and it is a problem.

Klopp won’t want to take Trent out of the team as he brings so much in an attacking sense, but it might not be long until the panic button is pushed.

I don’t think we can say the title has gone after six games, as a ten-match winning run would get Liverpool right back into it.

But this could quite easily tip the other way in the next few weeks, and then Klopp would have a big problem on his hands.

After the ludicrous decision to cancel Saturday's game against Wolves, Liverpool’s next match in the Premier League will now be in October after the Chelsea game next Sunday was also called off.

An away game at Arsenal and the first clash of the season against Manchester City are also on the horizon, and you can look at these kinds of challenges in two ways.

Win and the negativity that has descended on Klopp and his players in the last month will evaporate quickly.

Lose a few more games and suddenly you are looking at this season as a battle to get into the top four rather than a chase for the title.

I still have faith in Klopp to turn around Liverpool’s season – and they should still be a big threat in the Champions League, when they get all their players back fit and confidence returns.

Yet what we have seen in the final weeks of last season and the opening month of this campaign will have left a few mental scars on these Liverpool players that will take time to heal.

They have got used to winning in a period that has seen them lift so many trophies, but now questions are being asked of them and they need to come up with answers.

If these players and this manager are as good as I believe them to be, they will come roaring back when this temporary halt to the Premier League season comes to an end.


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