When the sun does formally set on Bobby Firmino’s reign as our number nine, only Mo Salah will remain at Anfield from the OG front three under Jurgen Klopp. With recent chat around Darwin Nunez’s lack of minutes and Diogo Jota’s return to form including his winner on Sunday, the talk around our forwards has been elsewhere. However, the Spurs game may just have given Jurgen Klopp his first proper chance to field a trio that bears the closest resemblance. Injuries and rotation will always be a part of football but if everyone is fit, don’t be surprised if we see this combination on a more regular basis.
The combination has and always should involve Mo Salah and two others of that there’s no doubt. Even in a season where it’s not gone to plan, the Egyptian King has still managed an impressive 28 goals and 11 assists to date. In the adjusted formation, he continues to set the standard for the team in every sense, and even at the age of 30, his appetite to win and create new records shows no sign of reducing. The key as always with the team is ensuring they get the most out of their talisman and the combination of his forward partners will play a prominent part in Jurgen Klopp’s thinking.
Despite Oliver Skipp’s attempt to reset the early progress, Luis Diaz looks more like his old self with every performance since his return from a long-term injury. The Colombian terrorised Spurs and especially Pedro Porro before his inevitable tiring in his first start for some time. The former Porto forward was bought as the replacement for Sadio Mane and the expectations are that next season we’ll see him start on a regular basis. After nipping in at the near post yesterday, the 26-year-old now has five goals and three assists across his sixteen appearances (GA every 135 mins). Liverpool do have many forwards who can play on the left side but Diaz would be the first choice for most Reds.
The biggest surprise may be the form and continued blossoming of Cody Gakpo in the central role. Jurgen Klopp has been clear in his recent pressers that the way into this side for his forwards was intelligent counter-pressing, hence why we’ve seen the former PSV man a regular starter in that role. When he first arrived in January there was a suspicion that he’d be another option on the left or even behind the front man if we played four forwards in a 4-2-3-1. However, despite initial misgivings from many, the 23-year-old has looked more assured with every game that goes by, and six goals and two assists (GA every 191 mins) is a decent return.
It seems even more impressive considering Gakpo didn’t score or assist in his first seven games and as with Bobby, it’s not just the stats columns that he’ll be judged against. The Eindhoven native appears the most adept at dropping deep, linking the play, and possessing an incredible burst of acceleration off the mark. Whilst he’s a different player to Firmino, the fact he’s the closest replication by some distance explains his continued presence as a starter despite Nunez and Jota being available. Gakpo is quickly becoming a fan favourite at Anfield and a player Jurgen Klopp describes as ‘incredibly intelligent’ will be difficult to shift.
Whilst the claims of Nunez and Jota shouldn’t be dismissed as mere squad options by any means, they may have a job on so to speak if they want to secure a regular place. The man who wears the number 20 tends to be a ‘streaky’ player looking at his previous goal-scoring exploits and in one sense his versatility could count against him. A lack of English and understanding of what his team requires has led to Klopp describing Nunez as a ‘long-term project’ and there are hopes a second season will serve as a real launchpad for the Uruguayan.
Whilst the manager talks about the need for rhythm and with the recent formation changes, there’s unlikely to be many more tweaks as it were. Injuries and rotation will always be a part of football, but if Jurgen Klopp has a desire to replicate the OG front three as closely as possible then he may well have the combination available he was looking for. It’s great to have five real senior options, especially when we think about scarcity in recent years. However, Salah-Gakpo-Diaz may well be version 2.0. Let’s hope they get the chance and stay fit enough to try and take on that moniker.