Five reasons why Liverpool are floundering badly this season

Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea (right) makes a save from Liverpool's Raheem Sterling during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England on Dec 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea (right) makes a save from Liverpool's Raheem Sterling during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England on Dec 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

What a difference a season makes for Liverpool.Last campaign, the Reds were flying high and playing some of the best football in the English Premier League, finishing second and 20 points ahead of bitter rivals Manchester United. But yesterday, Brendan Rodgers' men slumped to a demoralising 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford and sink 10 points behind Louis van Gaal's team.Here are five things that have changed for Liverpool since the heady days of the previous season.1. Forwards gone backwards

The most obvious change is the Reds'  forward line. Luis Suarez was sold to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge has been injured since Aug 31. While Rodgers signed Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, the loss of Suarez and Sturridge has been seismic.Balotelli has yet to score in the Premiership while Lambert's physical presence would have been a welcome Plan B last season, his style is not part of Liverpool's Plan A. Even if Sturridge recovers, it remains to be seen if the agile but fragile striker can shoulder the scoring burden alone without his Uruguayan partner.Winger Raheem Sterling was tried as a striker against the Red Devils. He has the pace and skills but he is not a natural finisher, and it showed as David de Gea repeatedly thwarted the England international's four attempts.With the transfer window re-opening in January, the manager must decide if he wants to offload Balotelli and recall youngster Divock Origi, who is on loan at Lille.2. A captain on the wane

He may not have spoken much about it but that slip against Chelsea last season will haunt Steven Gerrard forever. Until that point, the Reds skipper had the EPL title in his grasp but it was not to be. Since that fateful day, Gerrard has never been the same again. Perhaps he knows he may never come so close to winning the championship he desperately wants.Just not too long ago, he gave that fiery and inspirational "We go again" team talk after victory over Manchester City took them to the brink of EPL glory, but after losing to the Blues, Gerrard has been quiet on the pitch, getting harried off the ball and even found himself on the bench. Against United, he was far below his usual standard and did not look capable of lifting his game.He is a magnificent servant to the club but it is looking increasingly likely that this great midfielder will never hoist the title aloft. Not at Liverpool, anyway.3. A broken midfield engine.

A key feature of Liverpool's play last season has been their fluid midfield. The high-energy of Jordan Henderson combined perfectly with the creativity of Philippe Coutinho and Gerrard's experience and influence.But opponents have wised up. They are pressing higher to hunt down Gerrard and stop his passes from his deep role. Coutinho has lost form.The captain was moved back into attacking midfield in recent games but there has been no major improvement. More worryingly, he has not been showing the dynamism and the leadership that so clearly defines him as a player. At Old Trafford, he had a very quiet game and this is not the type of performance usually associated with his name.Rodgers has a solution to his problems in Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian enforcer, who balances the midfield with biting tackles and covering, was reinstated to the first XI during the Reds' recent four-game unbeaten run but was back on the bench against Man U. Joe Allen was preferred and the travelling Kop watched in horror as the Welshman was bullied by the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia.4. No case for defence

Rodgers has always insisted Liverpool will build play from the back, with defenders passing and dribbling confidently. The manager was determined to impose his philosophy and signed the men he wanted. In came Dejan Lovren and out went Daniel Agger. Also out went Pepe Reina, replaced by Simon Mignolet.But neither of those two big signings have impressed. Lovren is a bruiser much like Martin Skrtel while Mignolet's catalogue of errors saw him dropped against United. These transfer dealings are odd considering Agger is comfortable on the ball, likes to surge forward and threaten with his powerful left-footed shots and Reina was usually a reliable goalkeeper at Anfield.Liverpool needs to reinforce but having spent the bulk of their transfer budget on flops like Lazar Markovic, Balotelli and Lovren, Rodgers needs to sell before he can buy. The January window will be crucial.5. The buck stops with Rodgers

Ultimately, it is always the manager who pay with their jobs, not the players.Not too long ago, Rodgers was hailed as an ace tactician, a star pupil of the Spanish game. In May, he was voted by his peers as the League Manager Association's Manager of the Year. His faith in the controversial Suarez was rewarded with a flood of goals, his ability to switch tactics to match the ebb and flow of the game was lauded and he reinvented Gerrard as a deep-lying playmaker.But now, his methods are not working, his signings flopped and fans are starting to turn on him. At Old Trafford, United fans taunted him with chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning".The team looks extremely short of confidence and the manager cannot seem to motivate his men. His team selections can be puzzling, like preferring Allen to the more robust Lucas against the Red Devils, and his gamble on Balotelli has left question marks on his judgment.The 41-year-old can still save the season with some canny buys next month. Two years ago, Liverpool were struggling but he pulled off the Sturridge transfer to lay the foundation for last season's title assault. Another similar foray into the market will see him win back his doubters.If he fails, word is, a new manager is lined up to take over - and many say it's Borussia Dortmund's Juergen Klopp. Former Reds boss Rafael Benitez is also pining for an Anfield return. There will be no shortage of applicants.