Liverpool’s boss was irascible after a late concession at the Amex, but the indifferent form of his top forwards will equally weigh heavily on German
Jurgen Klopp was not a happy bunny after Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday lunchtime, and understandably so: two goals ruled out for offside, another functional player seemingly joining the plethora of first-team personnel on the sidelines and the late, late concession of a penalty after the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee.
After the final whistle, the passionate German manager had a lot to say about the scheduling of their fixture on the south coast, which came less than 72 hours after Wednesday night’s encounter with Atalanta.
Frankly, this wasn’t a Jose Mourinho-esque deflective tactic in the wake of a poor all-round showing, rather it continued the Liverpool boss’ persistent rebuke of the broadcasters in recent weeks.
While you get the feeling the decorated coach was still going to berate broadcast companies had his side eked out a 1-0 win at the Amex, the nature of the eventual draw put the former Borussia Dortmund trainer in a foul mood going into his post-match presser.
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“You picked the 12.30 kick off, didn’t you?” an annoyed Klopp asked BT Sports’, Des Kelly. “It is really, really dangerous for the players.”
Following a tough week in which the Reds boss saw his side lose 2-0 to Atalanta on home turf, James Milner’s suspected hamstring injury and two goals ruled out for marginal offside calls soured the 53-year-old’s temper.
When you consider that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were the two Liverpool stars whose goals didn’t stand, it continues both players’ unwanted runs. While the Egypt superstar is their top scorer in the PL with eight goals, a larger percentage of those have been from penalties.
In truth, they all count and it’s not as easy as it looks — just ask Brighton’s Neal Maupay who missed from 12 yards on Saturday — but modern football has found a way to frown at players who mostly find the back of the net from penalties.
Half of Salah’s total haul have been from the spot and he’s also shown he can hold his own in pressure situations with the 88th-minute dispatch on the opening day win over Leeds United the notable strike of his quartet of penalties.
However, the wide attacker last scored from open play in the league over a month ago in Liverpool’s 2-2 Merseyside derby draw with Everton at Goodison Park. The strike against Atalanta in Bergamo aside, the ex-Chelsea forward has now gone four games without an in-play goal in league football, although he has netted twice in that time vs West Ham United and at Manchester City.
Indeed, it would be biased to not consider the wider context and recollect that two Salah efforts have been ruled out for the most marginal of offsides in recent gameweeks: an incredible well-taken effort against Sheffield United and Saturday, where a toe being ahead of the last defender led to what would have been a first-half opener chalked off.
As for Mane, having the header with six minutes of normal time remaining ruled out probably rankled even more. Africa’s best footballer isn’t on penalty-taking duty for the Reds and, as such, doesn’t get the free hit from 12 yards for the defending Premier League champions.
Like Salah, his last strike from open play in league football also came in that entertaining encounter at Goodison Park, although he did punish an open La Dea team in that comfortable 5-0 Champions League success.
The Senegalese forward’s scoreless run in the English top flight now stands at five games and his only goal in all competitions in that time came on the continent.
This lack of open-play goals from Liverpool’s top attacking pair has been further amplified in the last two games where their contribution will have come in handy. The fact Klopp’s team couldn’t muster a shot on target in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield by Gian Piero Gasperini’s team was bad enough but the visitors’ last attempt of any kind against the Seagulls came in the 68th minute — a blocked Roberto Firmino shot.
Their Expected Goals against Atalanta was 0.2 in midweek. It was better vs Brighton, albeit insignificantly, with xG of 0.28. Unsurprisingly, both rank as the Reds’ lowest by far in both competitions this season but whether the pair represents a greater problem remains to be seen.
It doesn’t help that last year’s PL winners have their squad really stretched due to injuries to various key players, especially in defence with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold currently injured. It doesn’t get better in midfield with Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and now Milner joining a lengthy list which also includes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Klopp’s team had been securing results regardless and we all should remember they only just decimated Leicester City 3-0 on their turf barely a week ago which many observers considered their best showing of the season.
Still, the evidence of the performances in the last few days, a lengthening list of absences and the form of the club’s top frontmen probably justify the angst of the club’s supporters and spiky behaviour of their manager, whose side has won just one in four games in all competitions.
With the games coming thick and fast in the next month, it’ll be interesting to see how the German juggles a strained squad as they look to navigate a tricky period.
Undoubtedly, the Reds boss could do with a return to goalscoring form for Salah and Mane as it lessens the growing burden on everyone connected to the club significantly.