The pair’s contribution for the Reds so far suggest Jurgen Klopp’s strong assertion is being followed verbatim
“We will not defend the title next season; we’ll attack the next one. I have learned when you think you have reached the pinnacle, you are already on the way down.”
That was Jurgen Klopp’s belief soon after Liverpool claimed their first Premier League title after the league’s resumption post-lockdown in June. Having waited three decades to claim the top flight title, the Reds won last year’s crown at a canter with 99 points, finishing a staggering 18 points ahead of Manchester City — winners in 2018 and 2019.
Klopp’s ‘Mentality Monsters’ essentially claimed point tallies in the high 90s for two seasons on the trot, a truly remarkable feat given the standard of the competition. Going again for the third season on the spin will require players to not rest on their laurels, which is easier said than done.
Given the increased level within their direct rivals, and even teams with great ambition to thrive and then improve in the Prem — case in point: Leeds United — the affable German manager will demand a greater effort by his players for a third year.
Interestingly, the group seem to have taken their manager’s words literally, evidenced by their white-knuckle opening day fixture vs new boys Leeds and Chelsea.
Two players were at the heart of both wins: Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Against the Whites, the Egypt superstar netted a stunning treble as the defending champions began the defence of their title in rip-roaring fashion. Three times were Liverpool pegged back after going in front, still, they kept plugging away each time before their top scorer in each of the last three seasons delivered the final blow to Marcelo Bielsa’s troops in the 88th minute.
While two of the North African’s goals were from 12 yards — and penalties remain arguably the easiest way to score — both still needed to be tucked away. The timing of the third certainly fell into the ‘pressure penalty’ category, even though it came in matchday one.
Be that as it may, the pick of the game’s septet was the wide forward’s second, a half-volley from inside the box executed with the nonchalance of a seasoned goalscorer. After flourishing for a trio of campaigns on Merseyside, following a successful two-year spell in Italy, maybe the former Chelsea man can be categorised as one.
Salah lost out on a third consecutive Golden Boot last season, despite his concerted efforts in the final games of 19/20 but scoring the season’s first hat-trick on day one laid down a marker for 2020/21.
And then there’s the irrepressible Sadio Mane.
The current African Footballer of the Year delivered for the Reds in last week’s visit to Stamford Bridge, netting both goals as Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win over Frank Lampard’s troops. In some way, it was fitting that the Senegal attacker was the one to win the game for the visitors owing to his quick thinking on two occasions if not three.
For the first, Mane, aware of the space in behind Andreas Christensen darted beyond the Dane to receive Jordan Henderson’s through pass over the top only to be rugby tackled by the defender when through on goal. After a VAR check, Paul Tierney dismissed the centre-back, leaving the Blues to play the entire second half shorthanded.
Suitably, the West African was quicker to a Roberto Firmino cross after razor-sharp interplay on the right wing between Salah and the Brazilian saw the Reds go 1-0 up through a Mane header. For his second, there was the desire to chase down a lost cause and force yet another mistake from Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal.
It was the inside forward who’d misplaced a forward pass to Firmino initially and, rather than let the West London side rebuild, the Senegalese harried the Blues goalkeeper to show his underrated streetwise nature and quick thinking.
Liverpool have now scored six times in two games, a nod to their dominance going forward.
However, their 7-2 thrashing of Blackpool in a pre-season friendly before their opening match of the new season was striking. They repeated this haul vs Lincoln City in midweek, annihilating the League One outfit by the same score.
This was the first time since December 2017 (7-0 win over Spartak Moscow) that Klopp’s team have netted seven times in a competitive fixture. If the friendly game before the start of 20/21 is included, the Reds have now hit that figure twice in under three weeks.
While Salah and Mane were only involved in one of those 14 goals, the pair are undoubtedly going to be protagonists in Liverpool’s ‘attack’ of the title. Manchester City were the only side that managed to retain the Premier League in the last decade (17/18 and 18/19), becoming the only club since Manchester United in the 2000s to win back-to-back domestic crowns.
Without question, Klopp will lean on two of the best forwards in Europe as the world champions seek to claim successive title wins in the new decade. If the opening two games give a precursor for the season, then Salah and Mane have certainly taken up the gauntlet.