Liverpool have been warned that they are in danger of missing out on the top four and may have to “park the bus” against Manchester City.
That’s according to Paul Merson, who believes the stark contrast between the squad depth of the two title rivals is showing this season.
Liverpool began the campaign as defending champions, but are currently seven points behind leaders City in the table. That gap would extend to 10 if City beat them on Sunday – and Pep Guardiola’s side still have a game in hand.
Therefore, some believe that Sunday’s clash is a must-win game for Liverpool if they are to stand any chance of retaining their title.
Merson is of that opinion as well, and writing in his Daily Star column, the former Arsenal midfielder revealed his thoughts on Liverpool’s lack of progress this year.
“I’m not sure about Liverpool now,” he said. “They are in trouble. They are starting to become a team that has to be a full pelt to win football matches.
“The last couple of years they have managed to win sometimes without playing well. But if they play badly now they lose.
“If they beat City somehow this weekend they could be back in the title race. It’s that tight up there. But will they?
“I think we might see Liverpool park the bus and play on the counter-attack. If they don’t, they could end up getting a hiding from City.
“Liverpool are 100 per cent in danger of missing out on the top four the way they are going – and City are flying.
“Liverpool have got to be careful now. They are losing matches you don’t expect them to, and the teams around them are winning.
“Jurgen Klopp said recently that top four was the aim, but with their form at home at the moment, with no fans inside Anfield, there’s a real danger they miss out.”
One of the main factors in Liverpool’s inconsistencies this season has been their lack of key personnel at the back.
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have missed large chunks of the season with serious injuries and are unlikely to return until the following campaign. Joel Matip has also joined them on the list of players who won’t be seen until 2021-22.
It prompted them to bring in Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak in the January transfer window. Merson is intrigued to see how the pair will perform.
“You’ve got to remember what an achievement it is for Liverpool to be up there at all with all these injuries,” he added.
“They’ve had about 20 different centre-back pairings this season and it is starting to catch up with them.
“We’ve always wondered what they would be like if they lost a big player like Virgil Van Dijk for any length of time, and we’re finding out now.
“Liverpool’s first XI is as good as anyone’s. But once you lose Van Dijk and Gomez the drop off at the back is huge. The backups are not even four steps down…
“Jordan Henderson has done well there and Fabinho can play centre-back, but the actual defenders they have covering that position are nowhere near.
“I like Ben Davies from Preston. He’s a ball-playing defender. But it’s a big step up. And if Ozan Kabak is such a big talent, why didn’t they sign him years ago?
“If he’s such a good player, he should start against City. Let’s see if he does.”
Merson questions Liverpool depth
The pundit also criticised a lack of depth in Liverpool’s attack, with the champions not being their usual selves up front recently.
Merson believes they need more options to cover, or they will not be able to match City in the long-term.
“It’s the same up front too,” he continued. “Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi are not even close to the levels of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
“You need a squad when you play the way Liverpool do. City can leave out loads of players and not get any worse. Liverpool can’t.
“City have two players for every position. Why haven’t Liverpool?”