Nerves are jangling as the title race looks set to go the distance.
Having previously held a seven-point lead, Liverpool must now rely on Man City dropping points if they are to break their Premier League hoodoo.
Mohamed Salah’s form has been highlighted as Jurgen Klopp’s primary cause for concern.
The Egyptian has scored one goal in his last seven games and squandered chances which, if converted, would have kept the Reds’ fate in their hands.
But is it right that Salah should bear the responsibility?
The 26-year-old may not be performing to the same level as last season but 17 goals and seven assists in the league represents a healthy return at this stage — Sergio Aguero has the same goals + assists.
He’s been directly involved in over a third of Liverpool’s league goals this campaign and is in contention for the Golden Boot.
If he weren’t being measured by the record-breaking standards he set for himself in 2017/18, few would identify him as a potential weakness.
Salah’s form may have cooled in recent weeks but it’s unfair to expect him to score 30 league goals.
And I don’t buy all this about him only scoring against ‘weak’ teams this term.
There’s one point between Liverpool and City at this stage, every goal matters and a win against Huddersfield counts for the same as a win against Spurs.
City dropped points against Newcastle while Liverpool beat them, thanks in part to a Salah goal — this is how title races work.
Liverpool’s problem is an over-reliance on their front three.
Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are one of the world’s best trios at their fluid, dynamic best.
But when you have a team like Pep Guardiola’s City as a direct rival, you need your midfield to chip in with goals.
Liverpool’s midfield of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Fabinho and Naby Keita have scored five goals from open play between them.
They’ve also provided seven assists as a group, four of which belong to Milner.
Five goals and seven assists from a combined 125 appearances.
To put that into context, Shane Duffy has the same number of league goals from open play this season as Milner, Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Henderson and Keita combined.
Matt Targett, Kyle Walker-Peters and Isaac Hayden all have the same amount of assists on their own as Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Henderson and Keita combined.
Isn’t this a more pressing issue than Salah’s failure to replicate a record-breaking season?
This is not to say Liverpool’s midfield haven’t played well.
Wijnaldum deserves a place in Team of the Year in my opinion.
Fabinho has impressed after some early teething problems.
And Milner was immense in the first half of the season, with many praising his honest industry and age-defying work rate.
Aside from Keita – who has shown glimpses of promise without fulfilling expectation – Liverpool’s midfielders are not free-scoring creatives by profile.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been missed while Adam Lallana has failed to rediscover his form of 2016/17 after injury setbacks.
Xherdan Shaqiri is a player who strives to contribute in the final third but he has often been deployed as a substitute, frequently replacing one of Salah, Mane or Firmino.
I am hesitant to criticise Liverpool because they are in a strong position but they often lack a plan B if the front three don’t click.
They have been crying out for inspiration in midfield at times.
Compare this to City and it’s no contest.
Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne have 18 goals and 16 assists between them in the league.
Admittedly, some of Bernardo’s contribution has come from right wing, but City’s numbers are far superior even with the Portuguese playmaker discarded entirely.
What’s Klopp’s solution?
Given the pressure of the situation, you can understand it he was hesitant to put faith in Keita.
The Guinea international will come good but with nine games left Klopp may feel he can’t risk an out-of-form player at this crucial stage.
Shaqiri’s form has also dipped since the turn of the year.
Oxlade-Chamberlain could well be Liverpool’s secret weapon but eight months on the treatment table would dull any player’s sharpness.
It may be that Klopp simply demands his favoured midfielders to show more ambition.
The versatile Wijnaldum scored 11 league goals during his season with Newcastle and is capable of playing a more advanced role.
As for Henderson, for all his industry, he’s on course for a Stewart Downing season — the Boro-born winger famously registered zero goals + assists in 36 league appearances for Liverpool in 2011/12.
A more productive midfield could have compensated for Salah’s unfruitful spell.
Salah will remain Liverpool’s primary goal threat but a more even workload would ease the pressure and serve the club well.
Unfortunately, it may be too late to change.
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