Liverpool's Attacking Stats Raise Questions on Future of Front Three
Liverpool's season looked dead and buried just a few weeks ago when they slumped to eighth after losing 1-0 to Chelsea at Anfield on March 4.
A place in the Europa League seemed unlikely and the possibility of being the league's first ever representatives in the inaugural Europa Conference League looked to be the best they could hope for.
But 20 points from a possible 24 have seen Jurgen Klopp's side turn their season around to the point that they are knocking on the door of the top four in the Premier League free bets.
Momentum is on their side, especially after goalkeeper Alisson scored their winning goal deep into injury time in a 2-1 win at West Brom on Sunday.
Suddenly, a season that was in danger of fizzling out, has so much still to play for.
Many people believe Liverpool's title defence hit the rails when centre-half Virgil van Dijk had his season ended prematurely in the Reds' 2-2 draw at Everton.
It was only the fifth game of the season, but the champions' defence had already conceded 11 goals in the four opening games, after conceding just 33 in their title-winning season.
Losing the Dutch defender was a major blow, but another explanation for why Liverpool have left it this late to secure their place in next season's Champions League is their goals return.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were hailed as the fab three last season and scored 46 of Liverpool's 85 league goals as they brought the Premier League trophy to Anfield for the first time.
This season, Liverpool have scored 63 goals – the same number of points they have accumulated from their 36 games.
It's the first time in five seasons Liverpool are averaging less than two goals a game.
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Liverpool Goals Per Game
|Season||Goals Per Game|
Salah has been his usual model of consistency this season and with two games remaining, the Egyptian is neck and neck with Harry Kane on 22 goals as they chase the Golden Boot award.
Roberto Firmino has not been a prolific scorer like his colleagues in the last couple of seasons, and his total of eight goals is one short of his tally for last season.
It's Mane's return that will have disappointed his manager the most and his attitude has also come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
His refusal to shake his manager's hand after being substituted in the Reds' 4-2 win at Old Trafford suggests all is not well between Klopp and the Senegal striker.
Mane has seen his productivity decrease from 22 goals in the 2018/19 season to 19 last season to nine so far this campaign.
It begs the question, where would Liverpool be without Salah's goals?
All three, who are approaching 30, are out of contract in June 2023, but Liverpool need to start planning for the future now.
Liverpool's Points Total After 36 Games:
- 2016/17 - 70
- 2017/18 - 72
- 2018/19 - 91
- 2019/20 - 93
- 2020/21 - 63
Of the three, Salah would be the one worth keeping while selling Mane and possibly Firmino would help make funds available for new signings.
Qualification for the Champions League will also help boost Klopp's transfer kitty in the summer.
After watching their goalkeeper score an incredible header in the closing stages of their 2-1 win at West Brom, Liverpool know their fate is in their own hands.
Victory in their last two games will guarantee a top four finish.
Mane has admitted this campaign has been a struggle for him, calling it 'the worst season of his career', but goals in the final two league games to help the Reds return to the Champions League would certainly help put it behind him.
With Diogo Jota injured again, Mane can expect to play more minutes in the Reds' final two games at Burnley on Wednesday night before they end their campaign at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday.
As for next season, there is no guarantee Mane's form will improve. The 2022 World Cup begins in November and Mane will strive to make sure Senegal are there for a second successive tournament.
Sadio Mane's Minutes Per Goal Stats
|Season||Minutes Per Goal|
Senegal are the highest ranked nation in the African section of the qualifiers, which has handed Mane's country a bye into the second stage of their qualification process.
The same applies to his Liverpool team-mate Salah, whose Egypt side are ranked sixth in the continent.
That means both players will be racking up the air miles from the start of June when the group stage qualification gets under way.
If Mane's productivity has declined this season, the chances are his contribution will tail off even more with World Cup qualifiers to travel to.
Something does not seem right with Mane. When he shared the Golden Boot award with Salah two seasons ago, he averaged a goal every 140 minutes, which was better than Salah's 148 minutes.
But this season, Mane is scoring a goal every 292 minutes and converting just 13 per cent of the chances presented to him, while Salah is scoring 27 per cent of his chances.
Liverpool have some big decisions to make this summer which will shape the future of the club.
Whether Mane is part of those plans remains to be seen, but whatever happens, he will always be remembered fondly by the fans for helping them win their sixth Champions League title and their 19th league triumph.
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