Mohamed Salah already solving Liverpool’s problem for Jürgen Klopp despite Darwin Núñez ‘sabotage’
Notwithstanding Darwin Nunez’s’sabotage,’ Mohamed Salah has already solved Liverpool’s problem for Jürgen Klopp. Liverpool’s attacking tendencies have evolved, not least because of Darwin Nez. This has left Jürgen Klopp vulnerable in several areas, but Mohamed Salah is on the case.
Liverpool is experiencing an extremely odd season. Only five Premier League teams have scored more goals, and only four have conceded fewer – which is strange given the defensive horror shows that are routinely produced – yet the squad is ranked seventh in the table.
The fact that over a quarter of its goals came in one game has obviously warped the picture. Yet, every team has played Bournemouth, and the Reds are third in terms of predicted goals and second in terms of Opta-defined clear-cut opportunities.
With the turbulence on the front line in the previous year or two, that’s quite impressive. It hasn’t been long since the attacking trident of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah was established, but even more recent additions like Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota have missed significant time this season. The addition anzd immediate integration of Darwin Nez and Cody Gakpo has given the Liverpool assault a’revolution, not evolution’ feel.
Because of the personnel movement, it’s interesting to see how the Reds’ attacking tactics have changed since last season. To enhance the assessment, we can use expected threat (xT) data. If you’re unfamiliar with the notion, it’s similar to expected goals in that it assigns a value to every activity, not only shots.
Consider Liverpool’s match versus Newcastle. The most practical moment occurred when Andy Robertson passed to Jota deep inside the Magpies’ penalty area. The move didn’t result in anything, but it was the most valuable in terms of enhancing the Reds’ chances of scoring.
Apply this idea to every match to observe which sections of the field teams have been most and least effective, then compare the results to last season’s data. Doing so for Liverpool demonstrates that it has created a vacuum directly in front of opposing penalty areas.
The data in the tweet above is from before last weekend. Manchester City (0.21 per 90) and Liverpool (0.26) are both among the worst top-flight teams in terms of xT drop-off between last season and 2022/23. Despite this slump, they remain the division’s best team.
The defending champions’ decrease, on the other hand, has been more broadly scattered across numerous places (as indicated by the pink zones on the chart). Much of the shift for Liverpool has certainly occurred in what tactically-minded refer to as the ‘half-spaces’ and ‘zone 14’ (a.k.a. ‘the hole’).
This shift will occur for a variety of causes. Among them will be the fact that the Reds no longer dominate matches to the same level that they once did. Possession will be recycled in front of their box when opposition teams are pinned into their defensive third. Liverpool hasn’t been able to accomplish this nearly as frequently this season.
It has also been using Nez on a regular basis, who is a lot more traditional striker than it has been using for quite some time. The Uruguayan comes alive in the penalty area but doesn’t provide much else. Nez is rarely seen in areas of the pitch where Firmino might thrive.
Many Liverpool fans believe Salah has spent significantly more time near the touchline this season than in past years. His heatmaps do not indicate this, but he has been addressing the team’s issue since the tweet was posted. Maybe he saw it and took it personally.
Despite not having his finest season, Salah is the Reds’ leading scorer and assist provider this season. He surpassed Robertson in the latter statistic after assisting on goals in each of the last two games, against Newcastle and Real Madrid.
And where did he make the crucial passes? From the places where Liverpool has been significantly less dangerous this season. This has been far from the Reds’ most pressing issue in 2022/23, but Salah appears to be addressing it nonetheless.