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Can Mane and Salah keep delivering for Liverpool?

6:54 AM IST 30/11/19
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane
While the forwards have been instrumental to the Reds’ unbeaten start, the sustainability of their approach must be questioned

‘Kloppage time’ is the term recently coined for Liverpool’s knack for scoring really late goals in the Premier League this season. Jurgen Klopp’s side have scored four times in the final five minutes of games, a league high for any team in the top flight.

The goals have come against Leicester City, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, seeing the Reds win eight points. For context, Tottenham Hotspur are next with three, while champions Manchester City have won just two points in the final moments of games.

Of the aforementioned fixtures, the only time the Merseyside club failed to win was at Old Trafford, when an Adam Lallana strike rescued a point for Klopp’s men in a game where they truly underperformed, while the most important was arguably the 2-1 win at Aston Villa where Sadio Mane inspired a turnaround at Villa Park.

With the away side trailing Dean Smith’s troops, the Senegal international assisted Andy Robertson’s 87th-minute equalizer, before scoring a really impressive winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time to claim maximum points.

Mane was also important in winning the penalty against Leicester that James Milner eventually converted in a 2-1 win at Anfield in early October. The forward’s tendency to pursue seemingly lost causes has been instrumental to points won against the Foxes and at Villa Park.

Furthermore, the comeback win at home to Tottenham Hotspur was engineered by the attacker’s unceasing streetwise nature.

Having just been dispossessed by Serge Aurier, Mane was still quicker to react by cleverly leaving his foot in, which the Ivory Coast international kicked to win a stonewall penalty, duly converted by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian hasn’t been as central as Mane in winning Klopp’s troops points in the final moments of games, but his importance to their season is fully understood. He was an unused substitute in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Selhurst Park but returned for Wednesday’s draw with Napoli, but admittedly struggled, as did his Senegalese teammate.

Mane and Salah – who ended as top scorers in the division with 22 goals last season (alongside Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) – have scored eight and six goals so far this term, respectively, ranking them as Liverpool’s top marksmen.

With the Reds uncharacteristically failing to keep clean sheets this term, their top forwards’ goals will be vital to what they are trying to achieve this season.

Klopp’s team have prevented just two opponents from breaching their rearguard this term, and are on pace to succeed just six times in that area. That is a complete contrast to the side that kept 21 shutouts last term as they narrowly ended just behind City in the table.

Thus, it is ironic they’ve won more points and are on pace to beat last year’s total in a campaign where performances haven’t truly been great.

Indeed, besides their knack for scoring late goals, the Reds have been somewhat lucky to win certain fixtures this term; Southampton deserved something against them at St Mary’s in August, likewise Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September. More recently, their 3-1 win over Pep’s City didn’t tell the full story, as the game was tighter than the final score suggested.

To further highlight their slightly misleading run, they are outperforming their expected points by a staggering 11 points, which is unsurprisingly the highest in the league. Foreseeably, the other team doing better than their expected points is Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes, who are outdoing theirs by eight points.

Perhaps that’s the reason many are still failing to rule out the possibility of City clawing back the current nine-point deficit that stands after 13 games. If the roles were reserved, the champions will have been unequivocally tipped to retain their title, but a little doubt still exists with Liverpool, regardless of their lead, particularly with so many matches still to play.

In what is set to be a really busy December, the European champions compete in the Club World Cup, before returning to face Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United in the space of a week between Boxing Day and January 2, and the likelihood of fatigue in the second-half of the season is near certain.

Indeed, they were largely flat in midweek against struggling Napoli, a game Carlo Ancelotti admitted to limiting the amount of space Klopp’s side had to operate, as they are easier to curtail when forced to play in tight spaces.

Graham Porter’s Brighton & Hove Albion visit Anfield on Saturday afternoon, with Liverpool expected to return to winning ways. The Seagulls’ atrocious away record, with four defeats in six, makes it tricky to see how they'll take points from the Reds.

The Anfield giants are doing just enough to win games right now, but that won't always be enough until the season's end.

The other contenders, Manchester City especially, will be looking to pounce when Klopp’s men inevitably wobble at some point in the run-in, and it’ll be up to Mane and Salah to prevent another title from slipping out of Liverpool’s grasp for the second season in succession.