The attacking trident of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane has served Liverpool extremely well over the course of the last four years.
But now, after umpteen defences burned and English and Champions League medals in their back pockets, the time feels right to break up the forward threesome.
The Reds have now drawn a blank in three consecutive Premier League games and their attack has been culpable for this toothlessness. In times gone by, any responsibility for the teams’ struggles in front of goal was placed at the feet of the midfield who many fans felt weren’t creative enough.
And while the engine room personnel — nor Trent Alexander Arnold or Andy Robertson, two usually efficient sources of assists and creativity — haven’t exactly torn any trees up in the clashes with Newcastle, Southampton or Manchester United, the front three have failed to impose themselves on these games.
Firmino, whose form at the back end of last season and the start of this campaign was the subject of widespread ridicule, is used to drawing the ire of fans’ frustrations and many of the complaints about the Brazilians form are justified. Mane and Salah, however, are rarely the subjects of criticism, owing to their more often than not brilliant performances.
The African duo, who shared the 2018/2019 Premier League golden boot award, have been well below their usual standards in recent weeks and the Reds have suffered the consequences. Mane, whose attitude and work rate demand the utmost respect, looks extremely jaded. Salah, on the other hand, has been on the periphery of games ever since his controversial interview with a Spanish newspaper.
The return of Diogo Jota will likely prove an antidote to the staleness that has slowly crept into Liverpool’s attacking line, but the Reds will likely need to do more than place all their hopes on the shoulders of the Portuguese attacker.
One potential solution when Jurgen Klopp, Michael Edwards and co. turn their attention to the transfer market is to look to sign a physically imposing targetman forward.
While Mane and Firmino, in particular, aren’t bad in the air by any stretch, Liverpool lacks a brute in the box who they can aim crosses at. With Alexander Arnold and Robertson and their record-breaking levels of crossing, it is easy to envision an aerially dominant forward making goal-scoring hay at Anfield.
At present, when facing low blocked defences, it feels like every move the Reds sew together needs to be perfect in order for the team to score. There is no space in behind and passes need to be thread between five or six opposition bodies which, obviously, is difficult. Whereas, with a strong target man crosses can be aimed into a specific area where the forwards’ physicality and movement can tilt the odds into their favour.
There is a suggestion that playing with a physical forward is the sign of an agricultural long-ball team, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Arsenal were regular Champions League contestants with Olivier Giroud leading their line in an attacking-minded, possession football team. Similarly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proven big players can be just as — or even more so, in the Swede’s case — technically proficient as the smaller ilk of forward.
With Liverpool’s threat from set-pieces significantly diminishing in the absences of Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, this is another upside to signing a target man and another potential attacking solution when facing low blocked defences.
Whether the solution is Erling Haaland or a Dusan Vlahovic, the next step in the Reds’ evolution could well be a physically domineering forward.