Liverpool can’t only rely on Mohamed Salah, they need others to step up

Following his record-breaking season, the FC crew debate whether Mohamed Salah has surpassed Neymar as the best player after Messi and Ronaldo.
ESPN’s Glenn Price reviews Liverpool’s season in which Mohamed Salah won the golden boot with the club also making the Champions League Final.

Liverpool will look forward to bumper sales of their traditional end-of-season DVD review. Like last summer’s release it will feature lots of goals and wins — just what supporters love — which indicates two good seasons in a row, something not experienced since 2009.

A cursory examination of both campaigns sees certain similarities, such as how exciting Jurgen Klopp’s team can be and occasionally infuriating too.

One difference will be how goals were shared around. During season 2016-17 Liverpool’s main attacking trio were Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Together they scored 39 of Liverpool’s 92 goals, amounting to 42 percent.

Having added Mohamed Salah to their attacking arsenal, and still including Coutinho, four players scored 102 of Liverpool’s 134 goals this time around — a huge hike to 76 percent.

Incredibly, just 32 goals have been scored by the rest of Liverpool’s squad this season compared to 53, last time out.

There are reasons for this. Both Salah and Firmino were virtually ever-present. While Mane missed some earlier games through injury and suspension, he also featured in most matches.

Last season Klopp had to dip into his squad more. Players like Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge were called upon to share attacking duties. This year they’ve been out on loan. For the whole season at Wolfsburg in Origi’s case, for half a season with West Brom in Sturridge’s — for all the good it did him or them.

A big frustration for Klopp was a season of injuries for Adam Lallana, who made a telling contribution last time and emerged as the manager’s favourite. The famous Klopp hug seemed more heartfelt for the England man than for anybody else.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had tried to fix this gap in Liverpool’s midfield, made worse by Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona. Having struggled for months with very little game time, the former Arsenal man dug in and contrived to become a fixture in the team before a cruel injury forced him to miss the end of this season and probably a fair bit of the next one. By the beginning of season 2018-19, Liverpool could well be missing the contributions of six players that have helped them to fourth place two years running.

Coutinho is probably the most important loss. Klopp managed to keep Liverpool in the top four while also reaching the Champions League final but that’s been done despite losing Coutinho and not because of it.

His creativity and long-distance shooting — from free kicks or normal play — haven’t been replaced fully, with Liverpool depending largely upon the general improvement in Firmino’s game and the extraordinary finishing of Salah.

From the summer of 2016 to the summer of 2018 Liverpool will have had big changes in personnel. It remains to be seen whether these are damaging in any way.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah
Salah has been in incredible form, but Liverpool need more across the board.

The increase in percentage of goals their forwards score isn’t in itself worrying — most teams have a high fraction for their best players. But it’s somewhat ironic Liverpool won their last game against Brighton 4-0 with three goals from unusual sources: Dejan Lovren, Dominic Solanke and Andrew Robertson.

There is something to be said however for the claim that such a massive goal contribution from Salah cannot be relied upon next time around.

Klopp may prefer to see a more even spread of goals, but how he goes about getting it will be interesting. The hardest thing in football is to try and fix something that on the surface isn’t really broken.

Liverpool will want better attacking strength from the bench than they’ve been getting from Solanke and Danny Ings, whether from the returning Origi and Sturridge or new recruits.

Qualifying for the Champions League again means Klopp has plenty of chances to offer his second-string players. They must see it as an opportunity to impress and to be part of something much bigger than themselves. Many could get regular football elsewhere, but to what end?

Already there are stories about Rhian Brewster wanting first-team opportunities. If there is genuine belief in the Under-18 World Cup star making the grade, his progress has to be constructively managed and encouraged.

It is not Klopp’s job however to mollycoddle youngsters. His own position is on the line with virtually every match. In a results-driven business experimentation simply isn’t feasible, but there needs to be balance between using present and future stars.

He can point to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson as classic examples of younger squad players biding their time and reaping the benefits. Their reward will be a starting place in Europe’s biggest showcase on May 26. That has to be the bait, for youngsters and experienced squad players alike.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.