Liverpool's struggles vs. bottom-half clubs down to player accountability

As impressive as Liverpool's 2-0 win over title-chasing Tottenham Hotspur was, the performance and result took nobody by surprise.

Indeed, the Reds are unbeaten against the top-six sides in the Premier League this season, boasting the best record in the mini-league with Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and both Manchester clubs.

Since Jurgen Klopp's arrival in Oct. 2015, there have been no question marks about Liverpool's ability to perform against teams who outmatch them in terms of ability and resources. But Liverpool travel to Leicester City on Monday night -- their first game since the win over Spurs on Feb. 11 -- and despite the Premier League champions hovering just one place and point above the relegation zone, teams of this nature are those who Liverpool struggle against most.

Klopp's side have lost four games in the league so far this season -- Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea City and Hull City -- all of whom are in the lower half of the table.

More than aware of this trend, the Liverpool manager immediately pointed out in his post-match news conference after Tottenham that questions about his team's struggles against the so-called lesser sides will inevitably be raised ahead of their next outing.

After the 2-0 defeat to Hull earlier this month, Klopp admitted the "mood" of his starting XI from the start of the game was wrong.

"I think at the heart of it lies the behaviour of the small club," leading sports psychologist Dan Abrahams told ESPN FC. "They play with a nothing-to-lose mentality quite often -- a combination of nothing to lose and being completely up for it.

"It's quite a powerful combination -- a free intensity, if you like. If that comes against the bigger club with players who either put too much pressure on themselves or get a little bit too confident for their own good, then that combination can lead to a win for the smaller club."

To combat this, Abrahams recalls a tale of when Jose Mourinho first took charge of Chelsea in 2004.

In order to make his team accountable in a game, regardless of their opponents, Mourinho made his players write down three or four individual responsibilities they had within their role.

"If they were playing a game," Abrahams, who who spends time at Derby County and has worked with a number of England internationals in the past, continued, "And Ashley Cole, for example, had written down A, B, C and he's not doing A, B, C then Mourinho would be able to tell him at half-time: 'You said you were going to do this and you're not doing it.'

"I think players have to be accountable for specific individual goals within their role, irrespective of who they are playing against, combined with a set of team goals. It's a combination of a player having their own specific goals in their role, so they have absolute clarity.

"When I have worked with clubs in the past at Premier League or Championship level and we've got players and coaches in a room, they have come up with three controllable goals that they will stick to. For example, 100 percent intensity or it might be positive communication between themselves. Anything that they are going to execute and be accountable for.

"I just think those are examples of practical things teams and individuals can do that just makes their approach to each and every game the same, rather than 'we're playing a smaller team, let's try really hard.'"

Liverpool recently went on a run of winning just one in 10 matches, which included three successive home defeats.

Teams -- especially ones towards the bottom of the table -- found a simple way to deal with Liverpool's high-intensity, attacking style. It was a case of sit deep, absorb pressure and break quickly on the counter-attack.

It was more than effective, as it was predictable, but Liverpool could not find a way to deal with it despite Klopp's best efforts on the training ground.

"It's a question of patience," said Abrahams. "There is a great deal of integration between the mental side of the game and the tactical and technical side.

"If you want your team to execute the tactics you've laid down for them then they are going to have to be mentally strong for them to be able to deal with it, especially against a team who are going to be happy to sit behind the ball.

"Patience is an important word, and it might sound obvious, but you've got to have the physiological strategies in place to be patient. When you're out there and it's moving 100 miles and hour and you're Liverpool and you know you should be winning and you know you're going to get absolutely annihilated for not winning, then that can defeat the best of sportsperson."

Liverpool visit the King Power Stadium for Monday night's clash. Three of their four defeats in the league campaign have come away from home.

Abrahams conceded that playing at a different venue can undoubtedly have an adverse effect, even on elite professionals.

"These guys are human beings," he said. "Having wealth and being a footballer doesn't inoculate stress, doubt and anxiety. Some fans are critical of players' 'passion' when they lose to a smaller team, but you can't run around like headless chickens. There's a little bit more to it than that. They have to stay within their shape, their discipline.

"It's a game of intelligence and a game of chess, as much as it is intensity. There's a certain complexity for any player. There's a lot of good players and a lot of good clubs who have been well trained and this why we're seeing a lot of equilibrium in the Premier League -- the average players are a lot better. It's tough to win away from home.

"But it comes back to 'do the players have the right mindset going into a game? Do they have the right strategy to be able to deal with a smaller team pressing them being physical and playing well? Do they have the strategies to deal with that?' Often I think players are wanting in that."