Liverpool's fear factor weakened by early-season slump, says Paul Merson – Sky Sports

  • November 1, 2022

Liverpool’s poor start to the season worse than 20/21 title defence, says Paul Merson, who explains how fatigue is impacting Jurgen Klopp and his players; Plus: Magic Man hails Kevin De Bruyne’s consistency, Marcus Rashford’s ‘phenomenal’ century, and why Callum Wilson must go to World Cup
Football Expert & Columnist
Tuesday 1 November 2022 08:50, UK
In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson says Liverpool are losing their fear factor, have started this season worse than their 2020/21 Premier League title defence, and that fatigue is impacting Jurgen Klopp and his players.
Back-to-back losses against struggling Nottingham Forest and Leeds have extended one of Liverpool’s worst starts to a Premier League season.
Liverpool sit ninth in the table with 16 points after 12 games, with four wins, four draws and four losses already leading Klopp to repeatedly write off his side’s title challenge.
Read on for the Magic Man’s analysis of Liverpool’s lethargic start to the campaign, plus special mentions for Kevin de Bruyne and Marcus Rashford, and why Newcastle United striker Callum Wilson must be on the plane with England to the World Cup in Qatar…
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To put in a performance like Liverpool did against Manchester City and then follow it up with defeats against Nottingham Forest and Leeds is inexcusable. Liverpool took one step forward and four steps back!
Only the players can put in a performance like they did against City and then the ones against Forest and Leeds. Only the players can tell you what was different on those occasions.
After the performance against City we thought, here we go. With Forest and Leeds up next, it was an opportunity for Liverpool to take off. But now, they are in major trouble. Jurgen Klopp must be pulling his hair out.
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Teams are not scared of Liverpool anymore. It’s slowly mirroring what happened with Old Trafford. As a player I used to dread going to Manchester United. You used to play well there and still get beat, nowadays if you play well there you win. If you play well at Liverpool now there’s a strong chance you will win.
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Liverpool are losing their fear factor, and this season is already worse than the season they defended the title. In 2020/21 they had just won the league for the first time in how many years. I could understand that season, I’ve been there, I’ve won the league and know what it’s like the following season when everyone wants to beat you, not to mention the injuries to key players they sustained.
But it’s completely different now, Liverpool know that. They have that experience under their belts and there is no excuse for their performances this season.
I’ve said time and again how huge the loss of Sadio Mane has been for Liverpool, to which I am told it’s not to blame for their struggles. My question is: if it’s not Mane, what is it then?
I remember when Liverpool were the best in the business closing down from the front, they would win the ball back high and be on goal within a pass. When was the last time they did that?
Then there were the 20-odd goals Mane would score a season, often winners or the first in matches – big goals. Mane has gone now and Liverpool have to find a way to cope without him, something they have yet to be able to.
Whereas Arsenal played badly at Southampton and Leeds but avoided defeat, Liverpool are losing when they play badly. They are in a position similar to the one Arsenal found themselves in last season.
Liverpool’s prospects have all changed since the start of the season. They are not Premier League title contenders anymore, they have to get into the top four and secure Champions League football, it’s as simple as that. If they don’t get into the top four, the sale of Mane for £30m will start to look really, really bad.
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Will Klopp be thinking he’s taken Liverpool as far as he can? I’m not sure, but one thing I am certain of is that it will ultimately be his decision. Liverpool have to keep him but whenever the time comes to make a decision, it will be his.
Klopp is an elite manager, he’s not in the job to finish fourth in the league, for those kind of managers that is not success.
Klopp will want change. I don’t think he has been backed that much, yes, they spent £85m on Darwin Nunez but that was one player, they need a few more if they are going to get back to where they were.
What Klopp has done at Liverpool, winning the league after all those years, is hard work. He has worked his socks off, he kicks every ball on the touchline. Just like players, Klopp will be getting tired, and you get more tired when you are not winning games compared to when you are winning.
You have got to remember that the majority of this group of players have been ripping it up for the last six years. That will eventually take its toll on any player, I don’t care who you are. Liverpool aren’t lazy, they are a hard-working team who work their socks off and, all of sudden, all of that hard work is catching up with them.
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Like all of us, I’ve run out of words to describe Kevin De Bruyne. You see a lot of players that are up and down, but De Bruyne is consistently good consistently. He’s a gifted player, no doubt about it, but he’s in the company of the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in a select group of players who have done it year in, year out.
How many players have we seen have a good season, get a massive contract and then just fizzle out. You can reel them off forever. But the mentality of wanting to stay at the top, thriving to be the best of the best, that is the measure of greatness.
People have short memories in football. If you walked down the street and asked someone to name the top 20 attacking players to have played in the Premier League a name like Robert Pires wouldn’t get a mention and yet he played consistently for years in one of the best teams we’ve seen. There is no chance of that happening with De Bruyne, which tells you just how brilliant he is.
I didn’t know he negotiated his own contracts at Manchester City but it doesn’t surprise me. He just comes across as a no-nonsense kind of person who just wants to play football. You get the sense he would play for nothing!
He knows that if he plays well and does the right things all of those extras around football will come. He’s absolutely ripped it up at Manchester City. He is one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen.
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I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Marcus Rashford had scored 100 goals for Manchester United. I could not catch my breath. I could not believe he had scored that many. If someone had told me he scored 45 goals I’d have thought that would have been about right, but 100 goals is phenomenal.
He’s not an out and out goalscorer, he’s not a Harry Kane or someone of that ilk. He’s a player who chips in every now and then, or at least what the perception is. It’s a cup final for every team playing against Manchester United, everybody wants to beat them, so for Rashford to score the number of goals he has is some achievement.
It just goes to show you that some people don’t get the credit they deserve whereas others get more than they are due. Because he started off so young and blew people away, Rashford hasn’t got the credit he deserves because people expect him to stay at that top level forever.
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He had his first real dip last season where his confidence went but fair play to him, he’s stuck at it and looks a completely different player again.
The biggest compliment I can pay to Rashford is that when he goes through on goal you don’t think he’s going to miss, he gets you off your seat, whereas when others go through on goal you think ‘no chance’.
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I think Rashford goes to the World Cup, he’s an absolute shoo-in. He can play in a few positions, out wide, through the middle, and still make a difference. England haven’t got many players who can play out wide and up front and still have a presence.
Rashford has been around for a while; he’s got experience even though he’s a young lad. I know he got left out of the last squad, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t on the plane to Qatar.
What Rashford has over the likes of Callum Wilson and Ivan Toney, who are out and out centre-forwards, is his versatility. Wilson and Toney are straight down the middle, while Rashford can do a job on the left or right if needed in a three-man attack. That is why I think Rashford should get the nod, he can do jobs others cannot.
I like Wilson and Toney, I’d be shocked if Wilson didn’t go to the World Cup. I’ve said it from day one, Wilson has international movement. He plays on the shoulder; his movement is phenomenal.
If England are ever in trouble and need a goal, Gareth Southgate needs to look at his bench. Wilson gets goals in the six-yard box, there is an art to that, an art the other England forwards with the exception of Kane haven’t mastered.
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