Salah, Mané & The Balance In Liverpool’s Front Three

There was a moment just after Ryan Babel scored at Craven Cottage when I accepted that the title was over. I’ve said all season that there’s no point worrying about Manchester City’s goal difference, but when it looked as though we were going to be taking a draw and moving level on points with Pep Guardiola’s team, I realised it could be the thing that does for us. I have long opined that the Cityzens will drop points before the season is over, with the only question being whether they drop more or less points than we do. Yet I can’t see them losing more than once and even that is something if a stretch. Had we been level on points with them but with them having a game in hand, I could imagine a scenario in which we finish level on points with them but miss out on the title by virtue of a poorer goal difference. That being said, I also felt as though we would score again; something about it felt inevitable, even if I couldn’t have predicted the manner of the winning goal.

It’s rare for Liverpool’s defence to be at fault for the goal, but that’s exactly what happened. I was surprised to wake up this morning and see Alisson Becker being blamed for it, given that I thought it was fairly obviously that Virgil van Dijk’s header was terrible. The reality is, of course, that all three of James Milner, the goalkeeper and the world’s most expensive defender should have done better but these things happen. What matters the most is what comes next and we responded perfectly. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that in seasons gone by we drop points yesterday, such is the nature of the weak mentality that previous Liverpool teams have had. That hasn’t been the case pretty much since the arrival of Jürgen Klopp, however, with the German instilling a sense of belief that has seen the players turn adversity into anger and coming out the other side the better team for it. Still there remains a question over the front three, though, with many feeling as if they’re not firing on all cylinders.

Salah Isn’t Playing Badly, He’s Just Not Scoring

When Mohamed Salah was at his best last season he didn’t think, he just scored. Once the end of the campaign began to loom and the Egyptian was in with a shout of the Golden Boot and the record for most Premier League goals scored in a single season he started to get into his own head, over-thinking things and complicating moves that would have been easy enough for him a couple of weeks before. I think we’re seeing the same thing now, with the Egyptian talisman seemingly intent on scoring fifty goals for Liverpool as soon as possible. He remains stuck on forty-nine, though he’s actually scored fifty-one Premier League goals if you include the two he netted whilst playing for Chelsea. The problem is that he’s got stuck in his own head again, once again over-thinking moves and trying to do the outrageous instead of looking for his teammates when they’re better-placed to score.

It’s important to remember, though, that being part of a Jürgen Klopp Liverpool team is about so much more than just scoring goals. The easy thing to do is look towards Salah’s recent dry spell in front of goalkeepers and think that that means that he’s not contributing anything to the side and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s moment in the second-half against Fulham when Ryan Babel broke forward from a Liverpool attack and we had very few players forward. Salah raced back at breakneck speed to offer support to the defence, harrying our former player and forcing the home side into a situation where there was little they could do and we escaped without conceding. He’s scored the same number of goals as Sadio Mané but has six more assists than him; just because he’s not scoring doesn’t mean he’s not contributing in a big way.

Sadio Mané Is The Man Of The Moment

Some people talk about Liverpool’s front three as being Mo Salah plus two others, but Sadio Mané has shown in recent matches why that’s an immensely disrespectful way of thinking about it. The Senegal international has come to the fore when his striking partner has been going through a bit of a dry spell, scoring an outrageous goal against Ben Foster when we played Watford and taking that one step further by humiliating Manuel Neuer on his own patch to give us a vital away goal in our Champions League game against Bayern Munich in midweek. He was up to his old tricks against Fulham too, opening the scoring after a delightful bit of interplay with Roberto Firmino. There’s an argument that the reason that the Senegalese player has been able to come to the fore so much in recent times is because defences are too pre-occupied with making life difficult for his Egyptian counterpart, leaving him with time and space to cause them trouble.

If Liverpool manage to go on and lift the Premier League title then I think the balance in the front three will be a huge part of why. Even if opposition coaches decide to double up on Salah and Mané in our remaining games, all that will do is allow Firmino to step into the places being vacated. That’s to say nothing of the fact that both Mané and Salah, when he’s not over-thinking how to get his fiftieth goal for the club, are more than capable of causing defences nightmares anyway. There’s an argument that we should be getting more goals from our midfield and I don’t think it’s an unfair one, but when you’ve got a front three as classy as ours it’s understandable that they might see their job as being one of facilitators. After all, how much creating does the midfield need to do if Mané and Firmino can interact as well as they did for the opener at Craven Cottage?

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