Clinical Liverpool? It feels like an age since Jurgen Klopp’s team produced finishing of the highest quality, but they found their scoring boots on Tuesday night in the 2-0 win over RB Leipzig.
It seemed fitting that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane got the goals, too, something that’s largely been a rare occurrence for the Reds this term.
Excluding that FA Cup game against a weakened Aston Villa side in January, the last time the pair scored while playing together came in that 5-0 thrashing of Atalanta in Bergamo in early November.
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Strangely, it’s happened just once all season in the Premier League, when the defending league champions played out a 2-2 draw at Everton in October. They face the same side on Saturday looking to reprise performances from that game at Goodison Park nearly four months ago, and Tuesday’s goals sets things up nicely.
Many observers reckoned the Reds looked improved against the German outfit, oddly failing to take into account Klopp’s side haven’t been as poor as their lack of results since thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 in December have suggested.
Admittedly, defeats by Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City at Anfield hurt due to the excellent showings of the visitors, dropped points at home to West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United and Burnley rankled somewhat as the Merseyside giants arguably did enough to get more than 1-1, 0-0 and a 1-0 loss respectively in the three games.
Their bad luck on the road was magnified by that 3-1 loss at the hands of Leicester City last time out in the PL, a defeat that came despite controlling proceedings at the King Power Stadium for large periods until Brendan Rodgers’ tactical tweak prompted a late collapse.
Similarly, the Reds looked the more cohesive unit against Leipzig on Tuesday and got the victory their encouraging performance merited on the balance of play.
Of course, they had the woodwork to thank in the fifth minute when Dani Olmo’s header hit the frame of the goal and Alisson Becker’s fine stop a minute into the second half to deny Christopher Nkunku, while their goals came about after egregious errors in the Bundesliga side’s backline.
Be that as it may, after the recent ill-fated games, perhaps Liverpool were due the rub of the green.
Indeed, Salah and Mane coming up trumps against a side that came into the round of 16 first-leg encounter on the back of four straight top flight wins with only one goal conceded in that run was a big deal but they must now build on that win in the coming weeks.
False dawns can no longer be stomached, especially as participation in Europe’s top club competition next season now seems under threat.
Mane needs to find the net consistently and avoid the short-lived joy that’s followed since he thrived in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur in January, although an ill-timed injury after that win at Spurs hasn’t helped.
His Egyptian teammate has netted five times in as many games, though, and the mere fact 80 percent of the North African’s recent strikes have been open-play goals offer even more promise.
However, the forwards’ difficulty in front of goal on their turf has mirrored the team’s general malaise on Merseyside of late in which neither has netted an in-play strike at Anfield since the Senegal striker’s opener vs The Albion on December 27.
Salah netted from 12 yards when Manchester City ran riot 4-1 but the ongoing lean spell excluding spot-kicks dates to December 16 when Klopp’s team defeated Jose Mourinho’s team 2-1.
Liverpool welcome city rivals Everton this weekend, searching for their first win on their stomping ground in two months. The recent challenges are beyond perplexing owing to their run of 25 wins and a draw before playing out that 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion a couple of months ago.
Even more worrying is the run of three defeats on the spin, the first of which halted an impressive 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield. They’ve lost the air of invincibility at their sacred home but facing the Jekyll and Hyde Toffees adds to the emotion and desire to return to winning ways.
Their fortress may have been reduced to rubble going by the last three results but losing to Everton, a side they haven’t suffered defeat against in 20 games will represent a huge blow and lessen the gratification felt on Tuesday night.
Mane insinuated that Champions League success gave the beleaguered defending league champions the template to rack up much-needed wins after a difficult period since the backend of 2020.
Now, he and Salah have to walk the talk and rise to the occasion against the blue half of Merseyside.