Paul Merson thinks the “problems” at Liverpool “start from the front” this season with Jurgen Klopp’s side missing Sadio Mane.
The Reds have had a poor start to the new Premier League campaign with just two wins from seven after they drew 3-3 against Brighton last weekend.
Klopp’s men bounced back from that disappointment against the Seagulls with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Rangers in the Champions League in midweek.
And now they face a huge test on Sunday as they travel to the Emirates Stadium to face Premier League leaders Arsenal, who finished three places below them last season.
Former Arsenal midfielder Merson reckons most of the problems at Liverpool are being caused by their forward players’ failure to close down as “a unit”.
Merson told Sky Sports: “I’ve said it from day one, in my opinion, selling Sadio Mane was the worst business ever. The bloke scores big, big goals. Go through them, first goals, equalisers, winning goals in last minutes, big goals.
“He led from the front with his closing down, and for me, what they sold him for, I just didn’t get it. Darwin Nunez isn’t in the same league at the moment. Not in the same league at all.
“Their problems at the back start from the front. They’re not closing down as a unit – you can go on about how talented that front three was, but they closed down from the front. It only took one more pass, and they’d score.
“Now they don’t – so teams get through that press, if there is one, then they’re into a midfield three which isn’t the best in the country, and then you’re running at the back four.
“How many players have run at Van Dijk this season, compared to the last three or four years?
“It doesn’t matter how good a player you are when you’ve got people running at you left, right and centre.
“I’m not a stats person, so I’m just going off the top of my head – but for me, Mane was a big, big player for Liverpool. To sell him for £30m-odd, which in the world of the Premier League is a cup of tea, wouldn’t they have been better off to keep him and let him go for free?
“It’s come back to bite them and could cost them a lot more than £30m by the end of the season. If Arsenal win on Sunday, they’re out of the equation in terms of Liverpool catching them, and then there’s only two spaces for the top four. If they win it, then they’re one of those teams who can go on a little run. Eight points to 14 points is a lot of difference.
“It’s ‘must-not-lose’ for them. Liverpool aren’t catching Man City, so their season already is about getting in the top four.”