Paul Merson claims selling Sadio Mane was ‘the worst business ever’ by Liverpool and believes the Reds’ poor defensive record is due to the Senegal international’s departure.
Mane joined Bayern Munich in the summer for around £30m and Jurgen Klopp’s side have struggled since his departure.
They currently sit ninth in the Premier League with two wins from seven games and their defence in particular has come under scrutiny.
Klopp admitted they need to go “back to basics” having conceded 14 goals in nine games in competitions, with just two clean sheets.
Merson reckons Mane was key to their defensive unit as he pressed from the front throughout his time at Anfield.
He wrote in his Sky Sports column: ‘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.’