With seven games to go in the Premier League, Liverpool have already matched the total of 76 points that they gathered last season and will be top of the table when the league resumes for the final, unbroken stretch following the international break. That’s despite their highly-rated first choice attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all encountering scoring droughts this season, having excelled consistently throughout 2017/18 for Jurgen Klopp‘s side.
It’s not as if the form of those three has completely deserted them; their cumulative scoring total for the season so far is a very respectable 53, with the African duo on 20 each and the Brazilian netting 13. What has helped, though, is that even when some of them go through a barren patch in front of goal, at least one other will step into the breach and hit a hot streak.
Our analysis examines each striker’s form over the season, identifying hot and cold trends versus their fellow attackers.
|Opponent||Score (LFC first)||Salah||Mane||Firmino|
|Red Star Belgrade||4-0||2||1||1|
|Red Star Belgrade||0-2||0||0||0|
* denotes that player was on the pitch for less than 30 minutes
– denotes that player did not play in that match
The Egyptian was never going to repeat last season’s tally of 44 goals, but he might have expected to be on more than 20 going into the final two months of the campaign. The current Premier League Golden Boot holder has had a torrid time of it lately, having gone seven consecutive games without a goal and scored only one in his last 10 appearances.
Notably, Salah has featured in every one of Liverpool’s 41 matches so far this season, playing for an hour or more in all but three of them. He has only scored multiple goals in three matches, hitting a hat-trick in the 4-0 win at Bournemouth and registering braces in home wins against Red Star Belgrade and Crystal Palace.
His season got off to a slow start scoring-wise, with just three in the Reds’ first 11 matches prior to the October internationals. He then hit six in seven matches before finding his best form during December, scoring seven goals in Liverpool’s final five games of 2018. Since getting two against Crystal Palace in January, though, Salah’s only goal came in the 3-0 victory over Bournemouth at Anfield on 9 February.
The reigning Player of the Year will be fortunate to make the award distributors’ best XI for this season, even if Liverpool emerge triumphant in the title race. Optimists will point to how Salah came to the fore during a hectic and crucial December, a month in which the Reds won all eight matches they played. Also, of the seven remaining Premier League opponents the Merseysiders will face, he has scored against five of them already this term, although the exceptions are fellow top six clubs Tottenham and Chelsea.
The man who can humiliate Manuel Neuer and miss an open goal from three yards in the space of four days has, in the eyes of many, assumed Salah’s mantle of the most distinguished African player at Liverpool. While the Egyptian struggles, the Senegal hitman is scoring for fun in 2019, with seven in his last five matches and 11 already since New Year’s Day. He had nine goals to his name this season by the end of December.
Mane started the campaign impressively, with three goals in the Reds’ first four games, but then went seven matches without scoring, playing at least 60 minutes in each of those. Indeed, from mid-September to mid-December, a period spanning three months, he scored only three goals in 17 appearances, only one of which lasted less than 30 minutes. The three he managed came in quick succession in comfortable wins over Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff at the end of October.
Fortunately for Mane, Salah hit top gear during December, although the Senegal forward did register in big wins over Manchester United and Arsenal. The win over Crystal Palace in January has proven to be the real turning point for him, though. Mane’s total since then reads 11 goals in 11 matches, with braces against Watford, Burnley and Bayern Munich. He has been kept scoreless in only three games since 19 January and all of those ended 0-0. He has scored in Liverpool’s last six Premier League games at Anfield, a sequence that began three months ago when he netted in the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal.
After that 4-3 win over the Eagles in mid-January, Salah had 19 goals for the season to Mane’s 10. Following the nervy 2-1 defeat of Fulham last Sunday, both players now have 20. The ex-Southampton man has happily picked up Salah’s scoring slack – and he ought to have surpassed him by now, given the sitters he missed in home games against Bayern Munich and Burnley.
Liverpool’s number nine has not played in the archetypal role associated with that shirt for much of the season, with the Brazilian frequently deployed outside the penalty area and hence not readily finding himself in goalscoring positions. His tally of 13 in 40 appearances is not awful, but nor is it indicative of a member of what has been hailed as one of the top striking units in European football.
Firmino had to wait four matches for his first goal of the campaign but then scored in three consecutively and these all proved decisive as they came in one-goal victories for the Reds, including the last-gasp 3-2 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield in September when the Brazil striker came off the bench to net a stoppage-time winner.
He then went from three goals in three games to the same tally in 20 matches, 17 of which he played for more than 60 minutes. How long would it take him to score another three goals? Just one match; Firmino’s famine turned to feast with a hat-trick against Arsenal in Liverpool’s final game of 2018. Prior to that 5-1 win, he and Mane had only scored twice between them in seven matches in December while Salah had registered six.
He was also on target in Liverpool’s first match of 2019, the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, but has scored just three times in 12 appearances since then, even though he was restricted to half an hour in the goalless draws at Manchester United and Everton either side of an injury he picked up at Old Trafford. His brace in the 4-2 win against Burnley recently account for his only goals in nine games since the Reds beat Crystal Palace in January. Like Salah, Firmino is hoping that his scoring touch will return coming into the crucial closing weeks of the season.
Liverpool’s first choice front three have all netted in just three matches this season – the wins at home to Red Star Belgrade, Arsenal and Crystal Palace. The latter game in January seems to have been a turning point for better and for worse, with Salah and Firmino scoring only three between them since then but Mane doubling his season’s tally with a further 10 goals.
Liverpool’s title challenge has endured because the Reds are no longer heavily dependent on one player. In previous seasons, the absence of Salah or Mane would have had a telling impact. This year, a loss of form for one has been offset by a rich scoring vein for the other. It was Mane who got out of the traps quickest, but when his goals dried up, Salah began to strike gold, with Firmino chipping in intermittently throughout the campaign. Into the new year, Salah is going through a prolonged drought at the same time that Mane cannot stop scoring.
If the Senegalese striker can continue that form into the closing weeks of the season and his fellow attackers rediscover their scoring touch, Liverpool might just end the campaign with coveted silverware. Mane has been pulling more than his share of the weight recently; now it’s time for Salah and Firmino to step up and produce the form of which we know they are capable.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the March issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.