With Liverpool sitting joint top of the Premier League, with 19 points out of a possible 21, it is strange to be talking about problems in the team. But, while the form of Joe Gomez alongside Virgil Van Dijk, and the signing of Allison Becker have corrected many perceived defensive frailties in the team, now the attacking talent is starting to stutter.
It’s been a common theme of watching Liverpool, to be honest. As soon as you fix one hole in the bucket, you find another. Maybe that is the case for most football teams, not just us. Frustrating though, isn’t it?
It should be remembered that Sadio Mane has scored four goals this season, with Firmino and Salah on three each, so we are hardly talking Borini and Aspas here. But considering they were being talked about as potentially the finest front three in world football last season, and not just by Liverpool fans, it is something of a regression. It isn’t just individual performances that aren’t quite there, but all the understanding seems to have gone too.
Last year they looked like they had been playing together since they were kids. This year they look like they met on the bus to the ground. And thought each other were pricks.
Inevitably it is the form of Mo Salah which is getting the most attention. Scoring 44 goals in one season will do that. He’s set his standards high. A couple of weeks ago Jurgen Klopp tried to claim Salah’s issues were exaggerated, claiming he was only on one less goal than the same point the previous season.
Since then, and a few more goalless games later, that argument has gone quiet. Now the comparison from last season is slightly more stark. After ten games last season, when he was new(ish) to the Premier League, Salah had six goals, twice as many as he has now, and he hadn’t really got going yet.
I don’t know, maybe any comparisons with last season are daft. As Jamie Carragher pointed out last week, Ian Rush, whose record Salah was chasing last season, only scored 47 in a season once. Most years he “only” got 25-35. That would be fine for Mo too. Especially if other players can step up.
But you still have that sneaking suspicion that something isn’t quite right with Salah. He famously had a tough summer and you wonder how much that took out of him. How much weight he feels on his shoulders.
That right shoulder in particular still has strapping on it. We saw it when he took his shirt off after the Napoli game. How is that affecting him either physically or psychologically? Is he a bit more hesitant in certain situations? Only he can tell us.
There are also the problems with the national team that started before the world cup but have continued into this season. For a fiercely proud Egyptian this must be tough. On occasions it has felt like he’s fighting a whole nation. A country that once tried to vote him president even though he didn’t stand are now being asked to take sides between a football federation and a star player.
Usually the star player wins, but when some of the disputes are financial ones, sometimes, for people in developing countries who can only dream of Salah’s riches, sympathy can be hard to find.
Officially everyone is staying calm. What other choice does anyone have?
The manager knows taking him out the team will more likely make the situation worse and the player knows he just needs some goals to shut everyone up. Including me.
Maybe a starring performance in a top of the table clash might help? A couple of goals, man of the match and confidence and good feeling restored. Now if only there was one of those coming up…