Liverpool were flat and unconvincing at West Ham and must bounce back immediately or risk title challenge falling apart

As it once again dawned on Liverpool just how difficult it will be to achieve their dream of a first title in 29 years, Jurgen Klopp offered another reminder of reality.

“If you want to be top of the table at the end of the season,” the German said, “we have to deal with much tougher situations than today.”

What was so particularly painful about this 1-1 draw at West Ham United, though, was that it was probably their toughest day of the season so far. You could sense it in Klopp’s downbeat demeanour. That famous effervescence was not here now. He tried to give off an air of resilience, but you could see there was a lot on his mind.

There were also a fair few excuses. Some were justified. Some were not.

And while Liverpool had not lost the game, unlike their single reverse so far at Manchester City, this was about more than that. This was just a bad, unconvincing display.

While the City game felt like a big defeat that arguably even initiated this drop-off, it was in-keeping with the fact the leaders had only so far dropped points to the big six, and with their general good form at the time. Liverpool had given a fine account of themselves in a brilliant game, and positives could be gleaned from it. It was a set-back, but nothing to set them off.

There was also the way they were still beating everyone else.

That is what has definitively changed, and what feels so deflating about this.

Six days ago, Liverpool hadn’t slipped up once against anyone outside the top six. That’s now happened twice in successive games.

What has been much worse, though, was how leaden they’ve looked having taken the lead in both. They’ve also started conceding more goals.

Liverpool had previously always found a way. Now, it’s like they’ve lost their way.

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From a situation where it felt like they could win any game, the mood of two successive draws has ensured every match now looks that bit more of a slog.

That does get back to something Klopp was saying, though, and should be at least someway reassuring.

Liverpool’s form against the “other 14” was really never going to be sustainable. There was always going to be a drop-off, and the key was always going to be how they respond.

Bournemouth on Saturday will reveal so much.

But there is a wider point to that issue of their form, emphasised by the thinness of that squad. Liverpool’s starting XI and bench laid bare the fact they do not have that much strength in depth.

Injuries to Dejan Lovren, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have had an inevitable effect.

This is where it may really tell.

This is where Klopp has real work to do.

He hasn’t found a solution to the right-back issue if Alexander-Arnold is out, and it remains surprising that he won’t use Fabinho there, with the Brazilian instead being used in what remains a midfield make-up that provokes questions. Part of the latter is of course because Naby Keita has had nowhere near the effect anticipated, with that also feeding into the feeling about the depth of the squad. Keita was particularly poor in the first half, and culpable for Michail Antonio’s goal.

He needs to assert himself again, to step up a bit, just like Liverpool.

This could of course be where we see the benefit of going out of both domestic cups so early, as it frees up the side.

We might see the verve return to the squad, that has gone missing in the past few games.

On the other hand, it could serve to make every Premier League game even more pressurised, only making them harder work.

One thing is certain. This is going to be no surge.

Klopp already knew that.

It’s now really sinking in for this side, too.