Graeme Souness says “for the first time Liverpool will go into a game nervous” this weekend, with the defending Premier League champions preparing for a crunch clash with Manchester United.
Two old adversaries are due to lock horns at Anfield on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp, who brought a 30-year wait for title glory on Merseyside to a close last season, has his side back in the hunt for another top-flight crown. United, though, have hit the summit after 17 games of the 2020-21 campaign, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side overcoming early struggles to establish consistency and momentum.
With Liverpool still nursing their way through an injury crisis, Souness admits that the Reds may be in for a tough afternoon when they play host to the rejuvenated Red Devils.
The Liverpool legend told Sky Sports: “When you're a top team, you only worry about yourselves. That's been the case at Liverpool the last few years, but this season is difficult.
"Liverpool are huffing and puffing, that is a fact, it's not me picking a dramatic statement out of the sky. They are not the same team, not finding the same consistency, but they sit second in the league.
“They will think that even with them not being at it, they are still second and very much in the fight, but if there's one game United want to win, or one game Liverpool want to win, this is the one.
"The rivalry is enormous and has always been there; they are two monstrous football clubs with monstrous successes behind them.
“I think for the first time Liverpool will go into the game nervous. For the last two years it has been non-stop plaudits for them, and correctly so because the football has been magnificent, but that has not been there this season, consistently. That's why they've dropped points you wouldn't have imagined them to.
“When they are at their best they bully teams, especially high up the pitch, but I don't see that consistently this year.”
Souness added: “Liverpool are searching for consistency, and that was one word you'd have attached to them for the past three years. Their consistency levels have been fantastic, and that's why they've won some big trophies, but this year they are scratching around, and I think you can directly trace it back to losing Virgil van Dijk early on.
"They've lost Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, dropped Fabinho back in there, and the general disruption of what was a very set group of players.
“If you go back to the start of the season and you sat down with Jurgen Klopp and asked: 'Who is the one player you don't want to be injured for a lengthy time this season?'
“Some people might say [Sadio] Mane. Others might say [Mohamed] Salah. I think they've got goals in the team, but you haven't got anyone to replace Virgil van Dijk. He is the glue that keeps everyone together at the back.
“So going back in recent history, I don't think there has been a better time for United to be going to Anfield. This is as good as it will get for them. They will go there believing they can get a result.”