Neville said Liverpool looked like ‘zombies’ on the pitch during Saturday’s defeat by Everton.
With 13 games remaining, Liverpool – runaway Premier League champions last season – face an uphill battle to secure a top-four finish.
While Manchester City have in recent weeks taken a significant step towards reclaiming the title, Liverpool – the team City simply couldn’t keep up with last year – have fallen back into the pack.
Saturday’s Merseyside derby defeat by Everton felt like the low-point in Liverpool’s troubled title defence.
Beaten at Anfield by their neighbours for the first time since 1999, the Reds find themselves in sixth place, 19 points behind leaders City and five points adrift of surprise package West Ham in fourth.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp now faces the daunting prospect of trying to revive his team’s confidence and secure Champions League football for next season (assuming they don’t go all the way in this season’s competition).
Injuries have, of course, dominated the narrative around Liverpool this term – and with good reason.
Klopp’s defensive woes
For the Everton game, Klopp was without his top three centre-backs (Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip) and the midfielder (Fabinho) who is comfortable operating at the heart of the defence.
Also unavailable were Diogo Jota and James Milner, while captain Jordan Henderson was forced off after just 30 minutes after picking up a groin injury.
Nat Phillips replaced Henderson and played alongside January recruit Ozan Kabak, becoming Liverpool’s 18th centre-back pairing this season.
Speaking on Sunday, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville offered a bleak assessment of Liverpool’s current form.
“They just look beaten, almost like zombies on the pitch. Walking around thinking the same thing,” he said on the Gary Neville Podcast.
Neville suggested two possible options for Klopp: switch to a back three or play a ‘box’ in front of the defence in order to give the backline some much-needed protection.
Neville explained how the ‘box’ used to work during his time at Manchester United when Alex Ferguson was forced into playing either him or Roy Keane as makeshift centre-backs during a defensive injury crisis.
Neville explains the ‘box’ tactic
“At Manchester United, I played as a makeshift centre-back when there were injuries – or Roy Keane did,” he explained.
“But then Phil Neville and John O’Shea would play in midfield or Ronnie Johnson or Nicky Butt. You would play like a box in order to protect the centre-backs being got at. Sometimes vs Arsenal we would play Darren Fletcher and Anderson in front as they were better defensively than Paul Scholes.
“Liverpool are still pushing up really high – why not protect them more? Maybe they need to drop deeper for a game and try something different. I know it’s not in Klopp or Liverpool’s DNA but if you have got two central midfielders at centre back or two untried players there you have got to protect them.
“I think they have to try something different otherwise they will end up in a really bad drop-off. From going from Champions League and Premier League winners to fifth or sixth. They cannot afford that.
“Liverpool need the financial might of the Champions League so they need to win it or get in the top four.”
After suffering four successive home league defeats for the first time in his managerial career, Klopp has all week to prepare his side for Sunday’s visit to bottom-placed Sheffield United before welcoming Chelsea to Anfield on March 4.