Liverpool’s Premier League rivals may have hoped to have spotted a potential issue brewing at Anfield before the international break when Sadio Mane made a very public point of expressing his dissatisfaction with Mohamed Salah, when the Egyptian failed to pass to him during the 3-0 win at Burnley.
Manager Jurgen Klopp had already laughed off the row, while before Saturday’s 3-1 home victory over Newcastle, Salah had sent out the ultimate modern-day olive branch in the form of a meme of the pair hugging.
By full-time at Anfield, the only question surrounding Liverpool’s stellar front three is how any side in Europe can hope to keep them quiet.
Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino all missed the Reds’ pre-season tour of the United States, and Firmino was playing for Brazil in Los Angeles in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
But it just doesn’t seem to matter.
Salah and Mane – changing of the guard?
Salah had been the quieter of Liverpool’s trident when he scored the third goal on Saturday, collecting a fine backheel from Firmino, driving past Fabian Schar and burying a shot into the corner.
He has scored four goals already in the Premier League this season – taking his total to 58 in 79 for the Reds. He is not having a quiet season, but is Mane now eclipsing him?
Against Newcastle Mane was a menace, especially once he switched to the left of the front three after half an hour. His first goal was fantastic, taking a touch inside the area and flashing a drive into the top corner without hesitation.
Both forwards have scored 26 times in the league since the start of last season, with Mane’s goals coming more frequently, at a rate of one every 132 minutes to Salah’s 142.
But interestingly, considering Mane’s complaints, Salah offers far more to the team in terms of assists – with the Egypt international having set up 10 league goals since the start of the 2018-19 campaign compared with Mane’s two.
Mane has made more chances for Salah in the same time period though – 23 to 17.
One thing is for sure, they both love playing at Anfield.
Mane has never lost a Premier League home game in which he has found the net, winning 33 and drawing two of his previous 35 games when doing so.
And Salah has been directly involved in 50 league goals for Liverpool at Anfield, scoring 36 and providing 14 assists in 41 appearances.
As a pair, the two don’t tend to gel all that well. Only one pass was played between them – from Mane to Salah – on Saturday. They need a link man in the middle. Luckily they have a brilliant one.
Firmino adds to Klopp’s armoury
Firmino played an hour as Brazil were beaten by Peru in the United States little more than 72 hours before Saturday’s 12:30 BST kick-off at Anfield.
Anyone who has recently completed a long-haul transatlantic flight can attest to what it takes out of you, so it was no real surprise the 27-year-old was handed a break against Steve Bruce’s side.
That was the plan anyway. But Champions League hero Divock Origi only lasted 36 minutes before coming off with an ankle injury, with Firmino then coming on between his two team-mates.
The impact was both immediate and long-lasting. Firmino robbed Christian Atsu of the ball, looked up and played Mane in for his second goal. Clinical.
After the break, Firmino was playing a different game to the Magpies defenders. With flicks and backheels, he pulled them apart and could have ended the day with four or five assists.
He finished the match with four key passes and only an offside flag prevented him from laying on Mane for a hat-trick after another flowing move.
“It was my idea to start Sadio in the centre and Divock on the wing, but it didn’t really work,” Klopp said afterwards.
“Bobby then came on in his natural position. We used Mo more often, had one-twos in the box, played balls into his feet and then we were in charge of the game. They were wonderful goals. Really sensational. Nice football.”
Newcastle boss Bruce perhaps summed it up best when asked about the attacking options available to his counterpart.
“The introduction of Firmino, with his movement and the way he plays, was key,” he said.
“The front three are as good as you get. You can understand why they are European champions and lost once last year.
“They are an excellent, excellent team with pace and creativity, and at the top end of the pitch they damage you.”
Origi will go for a scan on his injured ankle, while Xherdan Shaqiri also came on for the last few minutes.
Premier League – you have been warned.