Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson thinks Liverpool “will be the team to beat” next season despite their poor form so far this term.
The Reds have suffered numerous injuries at centre-back which has seen them deploy midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho there on a regular basis this season.
A poor run of form has seen Liverpool slip to sixth in the Premier League table with the defending champions now 13 points behind leaders Manchester City.
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They brought in Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies in January to provide some competition at the heart of defence but Liverpool look likely to struggle to replicate last season’s form until they get Virgil van Dijk or Joe Gomez back from injury.
And Merson expects them to be back to their best next campaign when they get Van Dijk back in the side.
Merson told Sky Sports: “They will be back, 100 per cent. As soon as Van Dijk is back, this is a different team. I have no doubt about that. I still think next season, they will be the team to beat. If everyone is back fit, it’s 50-50 for me, heads or tails with City for the title.
“It’s the biggest points drop, but you have to remember the figures they were putting up last season. They were out of this world. I know they haven’t been great, and they’ve had a load of injuries, but at half-time against Man City at home they were still in the title race, which I think is a phenomenal feat given the players they’ve had out.
“If you asked us how Liverpool were going to start each week last season, we’d get the starting XI right nine times out of 10. It picked itself, it was such a machine. They suffocated teams.
“When you gave players coming in who haven’t played a lot of football, it’s hard to play that tempo. If one switches off, you are punished.
“When Van Dijk is in the team, Liverpool are playing on the halfway line. They win the ball back 25 yards out, then it’s one pass and they score. Now they’ve playing with a central midfielder at centre-back and they’re playing in their own half. This year I don’t think they’ve had a lot of luck at all.
“There is a drop in intensity this season, and that’s because of the players coming in. The goalkeeper is, for me, the best in the world. Look at him now. There’s no trust at all in the back four, and he’s playing on a knife edge. It’s all because of Van Dijk.
“Why are Man City succeeding at the moment? They have defenders playing out of their skin. Nobody wins anything without a good defence, and at the moment Liverpool’s defence is nowhere near the level they were at last year.”