Danny Murphy insists Sadio Mane’s summer exit is not the reason for Liverpool’s alarming drop in form, instead accusing a number of their stars of getting a little too big for their boots.
The Reds have won just two of their six games in all competitions since the start of the new season, with Jurgen Klopp admitting his frustration after Wednesday’s crushing 4-1 loss to Napoli in the Champions League.
One of their two wins could have been a 9-0 demolition of Bournemouth, but overall Liverpool are far from their usual level this season and have continued their surprising record of conceded goals.
Their previously conquering back-four looks particularly out of place and, apart from the Bournemouth game, they have also struggled up front – with many pointing to Mane’s loss to Bayern Munich as a huge factor behind their downfall.
Murphy, however, disagrees, insisting that Luis Diaz – playing in Mane’s former position on the left wing – has been the club’s standout player and shining light.
Instead, he believes the real reason is that complacency has set in after seven years under Klopp – something his former Reds manager Gerard Houllier has warned about throughout his tenure in charge of Anfield.
“I felt there was complacency from some players,” the former Liverpool midfielder told talkSPORT hosts Jim White and Simon Jordan.
“Houllier used to call it ‘the comfort zone’, where players feel comfortable knowing they’re going to play. Three of those back-fours have been selecting for years, and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk are both struggling.
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“Virgil looks like he’s playing with something or protecting himself a bit because he’s not what he used to be. He’s still a great player but he’s not at the level we were talking about he two seasons ago.
“So how do you provoke a reaction? How to bring players back to their level? Normally kicking the back and leaving you out of the team can work, but I think it’s going to be a tough few weeks for them, it’s not going to change overnight.
“That story about Mane being such a big dud, I think that’s an easy thing to say.
“Of course he’s a miss because he’s a great player, but Diaz has been Liverpool’s best player – he’s already scored four goals and hit the woodwork four times, he’s hardly been poor.
“I think the Mane thing is just an excuse, and maybe the players can hide behind it. I disagree with the Mane point. You miss the quality, but his start isn’t the reason the players at the back don’t follow the runners or switch off – it’s complacency and a lack of focus.
“If you have players giving up, it’s not because they aren’t physically capable.
“You could say that with a 21-year-old who has played every game for three seasons and he needs a rest, it’s true. Trent has played a lot of football and you could say he’s a bit behind physically.
“But senior players, there’s no reason for Salah to give up physically, it’s about attitude and then it’s up to the manager.
“Does the message of a manager, no matter how successful and how good he was, end up becoming noise over time? Does it fade over time?
“I don’t think about that, I think the players have to take some responsibility.”
After Napoli’s shock result, Klopp admitted Liverpool needed to ‘reinvent themselves’ after a ‘difficult period’, said they were ‘in between’ and had ‘work to do’ to mend their slippage alarming.
“It was the least compact performance I’ve seen in a very, very long time,” said the German. “Napoli played well, but we made it easy for them.”
Murphy hailed Klopp’s honesty and candor in his assessment of his side’s recent performances and said now is the time for a change of mentality in the Anfield dressing room.
“Klopp’s post-match interview was his best in weeks,” he said. “Very honest, you can see his anger and I suspect the change. I think we’re going to see a reaction and a few players laughing a bit at their attitude.
“About Klopp’s reign, there’s one thing that Liverpool have always been praised for, the intensity, the tenacity, the energy – that’s a prerequisite when you play for Klopp.
“So I expect him to go to the training ground and start kicking his back.
“I know he promised a reaction after the Man United game, but there’s a difference between losing 2-1 at United when you’ve dominated possession and you’re feeling a bit unlucky, and getting spanked by Napoli 4-1 by a group of players who, really, few of us have heard of. There is a big difference.
Liverpool’s US owners Fenway Sports Group have also come under fire from fans, who say they have failed to back Klopp in the transfer market as they battle for midfield options.
But Murphy disagrees and praised the Boston-based group for supporting the manager with a steady stream of transfer funds.
“I don’t agree with the fact that the FSG let him down with the transfers,” added the former Reds star.
“In the summer I don’t remember any discussion about what they lacked in defense and midfield. They brought in Ibrahima Konate for £50m to help Van Dijk and Joel Matip, they have full-backs to cover, they splashed out £85m on a striker in Darwin Nunez to fill the void left by Mane’s goal and assists – where haven’t they backed him?
“This summer I haven’t seen many people who didn’t expect Liverpool to be up there again with Man City. Just three months ago we were talking about Liverpool having, or almost, the one of the best seasons in history.
“It will be fine and good to be good after the event. People look for excuses and reasons.
“But I think it’s just a simple change of mindset where players have become complacent thinking they’re a little bit better than they are, and they have to go back to some basics.”