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Liverpool: Relegation Candidates in Waiting?

20/01/2016 17:56 GMT | Updated 20/01/2017 10:12 GMT

It seems pretty much mandatory now to pay lip service to the fact that it's been a bizarre, upside-down season in the Premier League​ before starting to make any kind of point, so here we go. Here's that. Leicester are doing well, Chelsea aren't, Spurs aren't being Spurs, and Aston Villa... well, no, Aston Villa are still rubbish. Some things, not even this season can corrupt.

The other thing that's stayed constant this season? Liverpool's decline. One incredible, Luis Suarez-inspired season aside, the Reds have been sliding down the table for a while now - finishing sixth or lower in five of the last six seasons, and they look like they could sink even lower by the time we arrive in May.

Talking about the wacky nature of the season so far in that now-legendary *ahem* opening paragraph wasn't entirely an aside - weird things are happening and, while they're not necessarily directly affecting Liverpool, there's a knock-on. Things have become a lot more compact in the mid-table, and mistakes are getting more and more costly. And Liverpool are making more than their fair share.

Chelsea's Guus Hiddink has admitted that his own side are absolutely in a relegation battle - and Jurgen Klopp's team are just two games ahead of them. While Liverpool aren't in the battle themselves, another run of one win from eight league games like the one they went through earlier in the season (which extended to one in 12 in all competitions, lest we forget) could yet drag them to the edges of the scuffle.

Honestly, though? That's probably not going to happen. Liverpool - barring the most astonishing end to a season in living memory - aren't going down in May. But the problems are still there, and it'd be naive to think of the club as too big to go down in the next couple of years.

It's becoming increasingly clear that this is no minor blip at Anfield. It's over 50 years since the last time the club were finishing outside the top four with this consistency, and there's precious little sign of improvement. If the season were to end now, this would be Liverpool's worst league position since 1962. When they were in the second division.

If there's a manager who can help Liverpool, it may well be Klopp - but there's only so much he can do with the players he's been given. Between 1 July 2014 and 1 July 2015, the club spent about £150m on new players - four of whom cost them £20m or more. Within a month or two, they'd spent nearly £50m more on Nathaniel Clyne and Christian Benteke.

Liverpool's pull in the transfer market is just nothingness - and then the money they spend is blown on long-shots. Of the eight players the club have spent £20m or more on in the last five years, there's been little to no proven top-level pedigree. Suarez was the exception, although even he came from a low-quality Dutch league, and the list drops away sharply after his name.

Andy Carroll from Newcastle, on the basis of one good season. Stewart Downing and Christian Benteke, taking a punt on lower mid-table players for Champions League prices. Lallana and Lovren, because they helped Southampton near European qualification. Lazar Markovic and Roberto Firmino, neither having set the world alight at their previous clubs.

It's an indictment of how bad Liverpool's recruitment policies are, yes, but it's also a massive neon sign saying "by the way, Liverpool - you're just a rich mid-table club now." And mid-table clubs can go down.

Look at Newcastle, relegated once in the last decade and already back in the drop zone after shooting back up. West Ham went down. While you might not pile money on and put the Reds as favourites for the drop, the decline is getting worse. It's not terminal, but they've yet to find players or a manager who can arrest it - and it only takes one freak season to dump a team unceremoniously down into the second tier. Away trips to Rotherham aren't exactly glamorous, and short of immediate promotion would see players streaming out of the door.

Liverpool won't go down this season. But unless something changes at Anfield pretty soon, fans and players alike are going to have to start looking over their shoulders - and they won't like what they see.

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