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Transfer Rater: Isco to United, Bailey to Liverpool

 By Steven Kelly

Liverpool's great win vs. Spurs hasn't erased their biggest flaw

Liverpool's excellent 2-0 win over Tottenham had the added advantage of shifting focus onto the Londoners' flaws. It's suddenly been noticed that Tottenham don't have much luck in their biggest matches. For a while this conveniently took Liverpool out of the firing line for their own flaw -- struggles in games they ought to win.

Georginio Wijnaldum had a particularly good game, which emboldened him enough to speculate on why Liverpool had such a rough time of it in 2017 previously. "I think in some situations we put too much pressure on ourselves and that's why it went so wrong."

It's a theory, anyway. Reading through the match reports on Liverpool's dreadful 2-0 loss at Hull last week, none seemed to pick up on this intriguing concept. Most said Liverpool just didn't show up.

What's galling is that it isn't a phenomenon peculiar to 2017. This is Liverpool's second season where they've struggled in games against lesser sides in the Premier League. The foundation for any successful team is winning the games they're supposed to. That focuses on two elements: home games and all encounters against the bottom 10 teams.

On the first point, Jurgen Klopp has done well. Bar one shocking week in January, Anfield is generally a tougher place to get a result. Even a good side like Tottenham wilted on Saturday. However, games against the teams in the bottom half still give Liverpool problems. Wijnaldum's theory, added to Klopp's apparent bewilderment, only serves to unnerve fans more.

Liverpool have 26 points against the top 10 and 23 against the bottom 10. Their only defeats in the league came against the sides currently in 12th, 14th, 15th and 18th place. Argue about styles all you want, but that is absurd.

In marked contrast, last season's champions Leicester won 52 of the 60 points available against bottom 10 sides. Current leaders Chelsea have 35 from a possible 39. In both instances, those totals virtually account for the gap between the league's top side and Liverpool. It's not rocket science.

When Brendan Rodgers challenged for the league in 2013-14, his team won 49 of those 60 points. Though it wasn't enough, it at least put Liverpool in a challenging position.

Klopp has been manager for 16 months. If the same thing keeps happening, that is cause for concern. Obviously, managers won't go into detail about their team's weaknesses; indeed, they'll often flat out deny they exist. The dreaded word "complacency" certainly won't get mentioned but if something's gone on so long, it must surely be a possibility.

It isn't just about results, either: it's the nature of some of them. Last season, Liverpool blew 2-0 leads at home to almost-relegated Sunderland and ultimately relegated Newcastle. They lost 3-2 at Southampton having been 2-0 up at half-time. That day Klopp decided Dejan Lovren might get sent off so needed replacing with Martin Skrtel. He'll claim he didn't treat Southampton disrespectfully, but thinking Skrtel could close out that match says otherwise.

Liverpool had another south coast nightmare at Bournemouth this season, losing 4-3 after squandering a 3-1 lead with only 15 minutes left.

The evidence that Liverpool are a team who either think they only have to turn up to win, or that the job is done at 2-0 for a certain kind of opponent, is stronger than it should be. This season has been better, but Sadio Mane has been integral to it. Easily the best finisher among Liverpool's forwards, his absence really affected form and confidence badly.

The opening goal is hugely important to this team. They played well enough during the opening period against Tottenham but once Mane scored, they were unstoppable. The following 10 minutes saw Mane score again and almost claim two more. Liverpool were rampant.

The Senegal international is clearly the talisman and man most capable of bucking this trend. He didn't play in the defeat at Burnley and was substituted before the collapse at Bournemouth. At Hull, he was just back from the African Nations Cup and so sluggishness was understandable, particularly since everyone around him was off the pace too.

Liverpool's rebuild under Klopp was never going to happen overnight and there are plenty of good things to focus upon this season but their dependence upon one player, even a superb one like Mane, isn't reassuring. The fact Liverpool still have a flaw that existed when Klopp arrived doesn't bode well either.

The former Borussia Dortmund boss is such a full-on character that accusations of complacency do initially seem ridiculous, and statistics can be skewed to suit any argument, but Liverpool's record against the bottom clubs is there for all to see. The bad news is that Liverpool only have six more matches against teams currently in the top 10, and seven more against those in the bottom half.

Fans will hope this fortnight off provides Klopp with valuable thinking time for their next crucial game against relegation-threatened Leicester.

It's a problem that cannot go unsolved forever.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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