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Premier League: Liverpool have problems but top four not out of reach

Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at Brentford made plenty of headlines and the manner of the loss will be of serious concern to Jurgen Klopp as his side's bid for another top-four finish this season now looks under real threat.

The Reds went down to efforts from Yoane Wissa and Bryan Mbeumo at a bouncing Community Stadium, after an Ibrahima Konate own goal had given the Bees the lead.

Five defeats already

The setback was a fifth Premier League defeat for the Reds already this season and - before Tuesday's games in the top-flight - was a result that left them 15 points behind leaders Arsenal but, more importantly, still four adrift of Manchester United in fourth.

However, their campaign should not yet be written off and this is a squad still very much capable of a big improvement in the second half of the season.

Catching the Gunners is now in the realms of fantasy, as the To Win Outright price of 66/1 underlines, but the odds of 8/11 To Finish In Top 4 prove they still remain well fancied to secure their place in next season's Champions League, despite their current problems.

There's no doubt that Liverpool's porous defence is becoming a real issue. The Reds have only kept four clean sheets in the Premier League all season and are giving teams far too many chances in games.

A widely-shared stat during the Bees defeat detailed how the Merseysiders have conceded 51 big chances in 2022-23 already.

Incredibly, that unwanted tally is more than twice as many as the five teams currently above them in the table - and underlines that they would probably be in a much worse position if not for some poor finishing from opponents, a bit of luck and plenty of inspirational goalkeeping from Alisson.

Problems all around

There are clearly problems in all areas. In midfield they seem to lack energy, drive and an attacking threat, while up front £85million man Darwin Nunez continues to stutter and waste far too many chances.

In terms of the other teams competing for the top four, at the moment they are failing the eye test.

While the victory over Aston Villa was just about deserved and they followed it up with a win over Leicester, the three points were gifted to them last week by the Foxes, or more accurately defender Wout Faes, who managed to score two comical own goals after City had gone 1-0 up.

Manchester United, City, and even Newcastle United all look in much better shape than the Reds at the moment.

It's telling that after the 2-1 Leicester win that Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold admitted they had been way below their best, while in the aftermath of the Brentford loss, Klopp, full-back Andy Robertson and goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all stressed the performance and result were simply not good enough.

Stats can tell different story

However, despite the current doom and gloom, it's not all bad news for the Merseysiders.

It's right to point out that they are not in crisis - even though the swift reaction on social media and the lambasting by certain pundits would have you believe they are.

Liverpool actually went into the trip to West London on a four-game winning run in the league and had begun to look a bit more like their old selves after what had been a disjointed early campaign.

Scratching beneath the surface of some of the stats, too, suggests they are not as bad as is being made out in some quarters.

In their last four games, Klopp's side have had more possession, shots (including blocked shots), shots on target and a higher xG than all of their opponents.

Yes, the performance levels overall have certainly slipped compared to the last two or three seasons, but they are still creating chances and largely dominating possession and territory most weeks.

In terms of creating opportunities, they sit third on the list in the Premier League for big chances created this term on 78, with only Chelsea (81) and Manchester City (101) above them.

What is a problem is what they are doing when they have the ball, with far too many slow, safe passes taking over, thus allowing opponents to easily regroup and sit in deep, in a containing, compact shape.

Teams springing quickly on the counter-attack, exposing a fragile midfield and high-line defence, is also a worrying trend in recent Liverpool games, which is leading to that high big chances conceded figure.

If that continues, more damaging defeats will surely follow.

More needed after Gakpo deal

An injection of new blood would help this month. Cody Gakpo has already been secured and he should provide more creativity and hopefully some better finishing in the final third, but it's at the heart of midfield where issues need to be addressed.

Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson are all labouring at times, while youngsters Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho are both lightweight and inexperienced, despite obviously having bags of potential.

With tricky games to come against Brighton, Everton, Chelsea and Wolves, Liverpool cannot afford many more slip-ups if they are to stay in the top-four hunt.

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