Sadio Mane is starring but Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana are also giving Jurgen Klopp a selection headache as Liverpool’s attack continues to shine.
It’s difficult to not be excited if you are a Liverpool fan this season. Even the neutrals are hugely entertained by the Reds, who have rapidly established themselves as one of the most exhilarating teams in the Premier League. Their attacking play has wowed the masses, while their defensive deficiencies mean that no matter how effective they are pressing forward, they remain suspect at the back. As has often been the staple for a Jurgen Klopp-managed side, the onus is on pressing teams higher up the pitch in order to create chances, with it no surprise Liverpool rank top for key passes (64) and successful final third passes (628) in the Premier League this season.
The fluidity and versatility of the attack means that whenever Liverpool press forward, fans will rise from their seats. Only Manchester City (11) have scored more top-flight goals than Klopp’s side (9) this season, though conversely; only a handful of teams have conceded more than the Reds (7). Much of the reason for the excitement has proven to be the big money capture of Sadio Mane, whose WhoScored.com rating (8.14) is the second best in the Premier League this season.
With Klopp favouring a three-man attack, Mane, along with Roberto Firmino, both benefit significantly from the freedom to roam across the final third. While much was made of the partnership between Philippe Coutinho and Firmino upon Klopp’s appointment last October, the Senegal international has usurped his Brazilian teammate and for good reason. Only a handful of players are averaging more dribbles per game than Mane (3.3) in the Premier League this season, with his directness on the ball helping force a way through opposition defences.
This ultimately draws defenders away from position, freeing up space for teammates to go for goal, which in turn benefits Adam Lallana and Georgino Wijnaldum, two midfielders making late runs into the box, thus adding a new dimension to the club’s attack. Only Yannick Bolasie (4) has created more clear-cut goalscoring opportunities than Mane (2) in the Premier League this term, while Firmino is top for key passes from open play (14). Evidently, the duo are as capable as providing for teammates as they are at going for goal, with Mane and Firmino having already scored two goals apiece this term.
Given the form of the pair, Klopp now has a selection issue on his hands. Daniel Sturridge, when fit, should be the club’s starting frontman and he showed why against Leicester with a strong showing in the 4-1 win. Indeed, it was his backheel assist for Mane’s second goal on Saturday that highlighted just how effective the forward trio can be. Sturridge drags players out of position, allowing for Firmino and Mane to drive infield or down the flank to exploit the space that has opened up in the final third.
Firmino may have started three of Liverpool’s four league games as the lead frontman, with the Brazilian acting as a false 9, but he’s a much better performer coming inside off the wings where he has space to maximise his statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of ‘dribbling’. It’s no coincidence that his best-rated performance of the season was against Leicester (9.22), where he started on the wing. When all is said and done, Klopp would undoubtedly favour an attacking front three of Mane-Sturridge-Firmino, with the trio’s constant movement offering up a potent goalscoring threat.
Klopp is then afforded the luxury of being able to call on Coutinho, Divock Origi and Danny Ings in reserve, while Lallana is another option for Klopp out wide if needs must. The 28-year-old is another who excels under the current Liverpool boss, with his tenacity and determination in the midfield third a huge boost to Klopp. Meanwhile, he maximises his athleticism to break forward and support the attack having been involved in three league goals this season, including a stunning second half strike at Anfield this past weekend.
Lallana key for Klopp
Yet it’s not just Lallana’s tireless running that makes him such a key figure for Klopp. Having dropped into a deeper midfield role, he has the footballing brain to pick the right pass at the right time, with an average of 1.8 key passes per game the fourth best of all Liverpool players. 2.3 dribbles per game is second only to Mane of all players at the club, with the England international a tidy performer in possession. He’s indeed an efficient link between the midfield and attack and Liverpool are prospering as a result of his impact in the middle of the park.
The defence requires work, of that there is no doubt, but Liverpool are arguably one of the Premier League’s most enjoyable teams at this point in time. The players all seem to have fully bought into Klopp’s philosophy and while it’s unlikely they will be lifting the Premier League trophy next May, a lack of European football means a top-four pursuit is very much on the cards.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with the new free-to-download WhoScored iOS app.