Former Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant has blamed Rafael Benitez's restrictive managerial style for hampering the Reds' bid to win the Premier League title.
Pennant, who left Anfield to join Real Zaragoza in the summer, believes the Spaniard's cautious tactics have resulted in a number of high-profile signings failing to recreate their best form at Liverpool.
"I don't see how a player can play at an average team and be great and go to Liverpool and be not as great," Pennant told the Guardian. "Liverpool have had some great strikers come and go - Robbie Keane is scoring goals at Tottenham, Peter Crouch is scoring now. It didn't happen at Liverpool: it must be about how the manager relates to players, how the tactics are and how he restricts players. The coach plays a big part when you arrive at a new team. If he restricts you, it's going to make you play differently."
Liverpool have already lost four times in the Premier League this season, are on their worst run of form in 22 years across all competitions and arch-rivals Manchester United visit Anfield on Sunday looking to heap further misery on Benitez. Defeat to the reigning champions would leave Liverpool 10 points behind the Premier League leaders.
And Pennant, who played for Liverpool for three seasons following a £6.7 million move from Birmingham City, believes that it is Benitez's negative tactics that are hindering the club's creativity and ability to consistently challenge for top honours.
"He's a great manager and there are times when he is a genius but sometimes his approach can take the best out of you," said Pennant. "Liverpool are a great side but they need to let loose and express themselves a bit. Look at Barcelona - you don't see them restricted, you see them breaking all sorts of shackles and they win things. Maybe if Liverpool went that way a bit they would be even better."
Liverpool's disappointing defeat to Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday was followed by a public vote of confidence by the club's US owners but Benitez is enduring his most troublesome spell at Anfield since joining in the summer of 2004.