Jason McAteer has branded Liverpool “too nice” and warned Jurgen Klopp his stars have to get nasty to save their season.
Former Kop midfield star McAteer believes Klopp is lacking leaders in his team and has questioned whether Jordan Henderson has the right traits to skipper the side after succeeding Steven Gerrard.
McAteer reckons Liverpool’s title hopes have already gone and a top four spot is slipping away after a disastrous January in which they failed to win any of their four Premier League games and were dumped out of the FA Cup by Wolves and the EFL Cup semi-finals by Southampton.
“I always feel like Liverpool are a nice bunch of boys. A nice team with players you could take home to your mum” said McAteer speaking exclusively to 888sport.
“You look at Chelsea and there is a bit of horribleness about them. Costa and Luiz and even Cahill to an extent. It’s a battle for them. It’s becomes horrible.
“Since Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard retired there have been big shoes that haven’t been filled but you can’t make a leader, they’re born.
“So I’d like Liverpool to go into the market and bring in someone with those leadership qualities.
“I’m not taking anything away from Jordan Henderson who has been a terrific captain. Like Moyes and Ferguson it’s always extremely difficult to take over a legend at a football club and replicate what they did.
“Jordan is his own man and leads in other ways: by his performances and actions. He isn’t one for pointing and screaming. Liverpool need someone like that who digs out players.
“When I played if you gave the ball away three or four would be immediately onto you: John Barnes and Mark Wright and Razor Ruddock. It lifts the team when you’re up against it.”
Republic of Ireland international McAteer, who played for Liverpool between 1995-1999 making 100 League appearances, believes Klopp’s men have no Plan B – and have been rumbled by opponents who target their vulnerable defence.
“There has been a bit of an inquest into how Liverpool have been playing these past ten games and with only one win over Plymouth in the FA Cup it doesn’t make for good reading.
“I think Liverpool have been found out in the sense that teams know how to play against us and there is no plan B.
“Sturridge is really Klopp’s plan B but now that sides have figured us out and go narrow there isn’t any room for Daniel play in.
“So really is Daniel an option? It doesn’t seem so because he just gets thrown on when we’re two down. He doesn’t get a run in the team.
“But our biggest Achilles heel is an inability to defend, not just at set pieces but now in open play.
“The lack of consistency at the back has always been there going back to Sakho and him doing what he did and Matip having to step in earlier than expected.
“Then Lovren got injured and Klavan has had to play a lot more than a third choice centre-half should do. Milner at left back as well has not helped.
“There are two ways of looking at versatility. You’re probably going to get a game every week but you’re also never nailing down a favourite position.
“I myself loved playing wing-back but I’d have much rather stayed in midfield. James is doing a job for the team and when everything is going well you don’t think about things. It all falls into place.
“But when it starts going poorly and you start trying to figure things out the problems are highlighted and the big problem with James is that he upsets the balance because he’s not a left-back.
“He is a right midfielder playing as a left-back so he’s going to get found out at one time or another. He is not part of the problem but he doesn’t help the problem by him being played at left-back.”
With Mauricio Pochettino’s in-form Tottenham stars up next for Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, McAteer fears the season could get tougher for Klopp.
“Hopes of winning the title went against Chelsea. We were looking for three points against Chelsea and then Arsenal doing us a favour and then the gap would have been four points.
“Then it would have been game on. The draw ruled out the league which is a shame and now Tottenham are the only realistic challengers.
“It’s going to be very tough with the movement of Dele Alli and the form Harry Kane is in.
“The flip side of that is that Liverpool’s best performances come against sides in the top six who play expansive football and believe in their own philosophy and don’t feel the need to change.
“That offers Liverpool a bit of space because the opposition is trying to exploit them. It’s still going to be tough though containing those two in particular.
“Top four is definitely slipping away and it’s up to the management to find a solution.
“At the minute – because of the form in the first half of the season and the points we’ve bagged – we’ve actually had a bit of a cushion to go through a bad patch that we were always going to have, it was just a case of how long.
“But it’s lasting an eternity, isn’t it?
“Now we’ve used up our cushion and we don’t have any more jokers to play. We have to find the solution very quick because there is not a lot of margin for error.”