Football commentators like to give partnerships names. Shearer and Sutton were known as ‘SaS’ in the days when Blackburn were tearing up the League while Liverpool had their own ‘RAF’ when Rush and Fowler ruled the Anfield roost. Spurs had their ‘Famous Five’ too, back in the time that Ossie Ardiles was all about scoring and conceding tons at the same time.
I mention this as I’ve heard talk of our own front three referred to as ‘The Trident’ which appeals to me as a former student of Greek mythology, though I can’t see it catching on. I’m not sure how else the triumvirate of Mane, Firmino and Salah could be abbreviated. ‘MFS’ maybe? Hmm. That could be misinterpreted somehow.
As for the lads themselves, they’re perceived very differently from each other.
Of course, given the heroics of last season, Mo Salah is the main talking point. You can’t score all those goals and have that hair and expect to escape attention. In just one year he’s been promoted to the level just behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in world football. And yet despite that time in the spotlight he’s a quiet, humble man who refused to point at himself when plaudits are being handed out.
Despite his incredible record, he is not the focal point on the pitch. Coming in from wide positions as he does, he relies on the man in the middle to process much of the play. Pretty much everything goes through Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian is in the unique position of being the best central player in a three in the game while seemingly being unable to play him in any other role. In his first season with the club he was deployed as a wide player by Brendan Rodgers and was largely ineffectual, particularly at Old Trafford where much was expected of him. He has to play in the middle or nowhere.
He has been transformed under Jurgen Klopp and is indispensable in Liverpool’s front line. Though Daniel Sturridge is a player of significant talents, he doesn’t quite have the grasp of that role.
Roberto also wins the category of ‘Liverpool player with whom most people would like a pint.’ Milner takes the tea category. Seriously, imagine that night out with Firmino. A quick livener near the ground and then into town to get things going. The night could end anywhere. Someone’s flat, on a boat bound for Japan, marsh land in Stoke … anywhere. You’d definitely have to book the next day off work. Possibly the month.
So while Mohammed receives the attention (quite rightly) and Roberto is the glue that holds the three of them together, it is the quietest of the three who is most overlooked.
I honestly think Sadio Mane is underrated in this country. Players such as Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling excite comment from all over the world, but Sadio seems to have been left behind outside the confines of his own club.
This may be due to the myth that last season was not his best. This all started when he chose to shoot in the home derby when a simpler pass was on to put the Reds two goals up. Instead he scuffed his shot and drew murderous glances from his team mates. But since that moment he’s risen higher and higher, culminating in two goals on Sunday, when Liverpool swept away West Ham United.
Those finishes — albeit an offside one — were an apt reward for a performance which has become so characteristic that he’s barely mentioned in many ‘Man of the Match’ conversations. Such is his level of consistency; he is often taken for granted. Leaving Anfield on Sunday, I told a friend that Wijnaldum would be my player to receive the champagne, leaving her to frown and reply ‘Well, Mane DID win the game for us, like.’ Fair point.
Of course, the best games are the ones where every Liverpool player is a candidate, but while Keita was imperious on his debut and Milner rolled back the years once more, the Senegalese shone brighter than his Red brothers. Turning his full-back time and again or sitting back to give him give him space to attack, he was simply unplayable. I doubt there’ll be many of the Hammers’ back four who are keen to see him again.
No one has doubted his pace or abilities on the pitch, but the 26-year-old has so much more than a speed merchant. His game intelligence makes him a far more dangerous antagonist than a simple wide man with an eye for goal. He has developed an unerring ability to switch positions to find space both for himself and his teammates.
What’s more his partnership with Andy Robertson makes Liverpool’s left side as dangerous as Alexander-Arnold and Salah on the opposing flank. More so, arguably.
There’s no reason why Sadio cannot have the same return as Mo did in last season’ campaign. He has all the tools to deliver a truly mesmerising return. The new number 10 may be the last to be lauded by outsiders, but he is absolutely vital to his team’s chances over the coming months.