Liverpool’s “samey” midfield has become a problem for Jurgen Klopp says Michael Owen, with a lack of energy in the engine room forcing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to step in off the flanks.
As wide attackers come inside, opposition defences are able to pack together and contain the threat posed by the reigning Premier League champions.
At their best, Liverpool slice through rivals as wingers create space down the middle for passes and runs in behind.
Owen fears those qualities have deserted the Reds, with the 1-0 defeat to Brighton seeing Klopp’s men fail to find the target in a third successive top-flight home game and for a fifth time in seven outings.
For him, issues are being caused in the middle of the park, with Thiago Alcantara, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner all sitting deep, winning the ball and moving it on.
“I often think that Mane when he plays, and Salah, they’re better when they start wide,” former Liverpool striker Owen told Premier League Productions.
“Think of the chance Salah had early on [against Brighton], he needs to start wide and run inside. As soon as Roberto Firmino drops in it leaves those gaps and they come wide.
"A lot of the time this season they’ve been starting narrow and then you’ve got nowhere to run - the only way you can run is out and away from the goal.
“I think Liverpool are better when they have width. They get clustering. They have a lot of samey players in midfield in Thiago, Wijnaldum and Milner.
“I would like to see them stretching play a lot more, upping the tempo, winning the ball high again, committing players forward to win the ball high, they have to do it, they have to stem it themselves because they don’t have the Anfield crowd.
“You can react off the crowd, it’s a powerful thing but they can’t call upon that now they need to do it themselves to get this monkey off their back.
“It looks like there’s no energy in the team. Liverpool are used to winning the ball high, keeping the energy up, keeping a high tempo game. All of a sudden now it’s just not the Liverpool I’m used to watching, they rarely hunt in packs any more. It’s just not what we’re used to at the minute and they need to find something quick.”
Liverpool need to find inspiration as their next outing is at home to leaders Manchester City, a side they sit seven points behind despite playing a game more.
Owen added on the Reds’ title chances: “Yeah, at the moment, it’s seven points and a game in hand what City have got. That’s a lot, we’re past halfway.
“You’d have to say if Liverpool don’t beat Manchester City at the weekend, because it’s not just the points total, it’s what’s going to happen in the future and Liverpool just aren’t playing well enough and haven’t played well for the last month or so.”