Richard Buxton: Defence is not Liverpool's only Achilles' heel
Injuries have hampered Klopp's backline, but lack of goals also a key reason for dip
Even Juergen Klopp can no longer put a brave face on Liverpool's staggering demise.
If last season's much-awaited English Premier League coronation is punctuated by an asterisk, his side's follow-up will become defined by excuses after Everton finally broke an Anfield hoodoo dating back to 1999 with a comfortable 2-0 victory yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The ailing champions have spent so much of this term complaining about those that have been lost in the heat of battle that they overlooked a greater contributing factor.
Without Virgil van Dijk and other senior centre-backs, the Reds' defence has been threadbare in the extreme; propped up by midfielders who are also succumbing to injuries.
Klopp's awkward grin as another member of an already stricken backline limped out in Jordan Henderson is usually reserved only for underwhelming Christmas presents.
His side are now the gift that keeps on giving for opponents desperately seeking an end to barren runs beneath The Kop's shadow. Everton joined Manchester City, Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion in securing their first wins on Merseyside for over a generation.
The German has suffered multiple humiliations on home soil once before. In January 2017, a hat-trick of defeats in all competitions left him trying to point the finger at the elements.
Gale-force winds were at the heart of his reasoning amid Liverpool's losses to less-than- illustrious opponents in Swansea City, Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Blaming it on the weatherman carried zero sway with Klopp's top-flight detractors at the time and his season-long gripe about losing van Dijk, similarly, holds minimal credibility.
Former Reds defender Jamie Carragher has said he is sick of hearing the excuses around the Holland international's injury-enforced absence, following October's corresponding fixture against the Toffees.
Problems run far deeper than simply being stripped of their defensive talisman. Van Dijk's penchant for netting the occasional goal would still not mask the ongoing malaise of an attacking trident which appears severely blunted in every game it faces at Anfield.
Between them, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have amassed just two goals in their last six EPL appearances at home.
Viable alternatives to the misfiring trio are conspicuous by their absence as Diogo Jota works his way back to full fitness.
Liverpool's best available option is some 380km away from the current line of duty.
A stagnant start to life in England has done little to dampen Takumi Minamino's ability with two goals in his first three outings during a half-season loan with Southampton.
MINAMINO v ORIGI
Arguably, sending on the much-maligned Japanese forward would have salvaged more credibility from the defeat by Everton than Klopp's introduction of Divock Origi in the game's dying embers, when the visitors were already coasting to their historic win.
Lazy nostalgia drove the Liverpool manager to turn to a player whose cult-hero status in Merseyside Derbies is now discoloured by a solitary goal in 16 appearances this season.
Attempting to recapture that paradise lost underlines just how far Klopp's side have fallen barely seven months since becoming champions.
Headline writers prematurely declared that "The Empire is Crumbling" in the aftermath of City belatedly emerging victorious at Anfield during Bob Paisley's managerial heyday.
Four decades on, that false prophecy is becoming a bruising reality for Liverpool.