The Algeria star won’t land a knockout blow to his African counterparts’ title defence, but will relish making a huge dent, regardless
From mentality monsters to lame ducks, the sudden fragility of this Liverpool side is beyond startling.
As Brighton & Hove Albion withstood an averagely mounted onslaught from the flagging defending Premier League champions, Jurgen Klopp’s saw his side huff and puff but fail to muster anything significant to even pull level, not to mention roar to a comeback.
It ended 1-0 to the Seagulls at Anfield. The Reds have now lost two on the spin at their fortress. Fortress? Not anymore.
Two defeats on the trot on their turf haven’t been the reality of the six-time European champions since 2012 while failing to score at their stomping ground for three consecutive games hasn’t been a thing since 1984.
This was a deserved success, too. It was no smash and grab on Merseyside.
If you’re into advanced analytics, the expected goals was in favour of the visitors — 1.1 to 0.7 — who equally out-shot the illustrious champions 13-11. Klopp’s side haven’t had xG so low since, you guessed it, playing the same side at the Amex in late November, a game that witnessed some post-game histrionics by the German.
Back to events on the pitch on Wednesday, a match that saw the Reds revert to recent laboured habits in possession.
Mohamed Salah, who looked resurgent in that amazing second-half at West Ham United missed the hosts’ biggest chances on the night, and an argument can be made that he scored more difficult chances at the London Stadium on Sunday.
Failure to tuck away the effort after controlling Jordan Henderson’s lofted through-ball and inability to hit the target from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s zipped low cross after opening his body up was, by and large, Liverpool’s season in a nutshell and very little seems to be going their way.
The Egyptian alone accounted for 0.5 of the home team’s total xG, looking out of sorts in every sense.
There’s a temptation to intimate he seemed lost without Sadio Mane, but that suggestion, while carrying some weight may fall on deaf ears owing to the Senegal star’s struggles this term. In a sense, one might count the current African Footballer of the Year unlucky given his injury came after that impressive performance against a wretched Tottenham Hotspur side.
Talk about badly-timed. Mane assisted Roberto Firmino’s strike just before the break and finally scored one himself to make it 3-1 after Spurs halved the deficit in the 49th minute. The two-game lay-off has prevented the West African from building much-needed momentum, and the hope is he doesn’t have to start from scratch.
It’s a situation Klopp can ill-afford as their grip on the PL title they waited 30 years to claim continues to loosen. Actually, are Liverpool in the title race or in a battle to end in the top four? Some might scoff at this query, but maybe they shouldn’t.
Last year’s champions currently sit seven points off Manchester City atop the standings, the side they face on Sunday, the one they wrest the league off so easily last term it was like taking candy from a baby.
On the other hand, in-form West Ham are two points behind the side from Merseyside, a resurgent Chelsea are another two adrift, as are Everton, who have played two games fewer than their fierce rivals. Given the current performances and results, who should Klopp’s team be worried about?
Lose this weekend and the gap at the top could extend to 10. Man City win their game in hand and the Reds could be a staggering 13 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s men. Even with about 15 games to play, such a gap looks unassailable, especially with the current form of both sides.
Liverpool’s worst-case scenario will be music to the ears of the Cityzens, as well as Riyad Mahrez, who hopes to play a part on Sunday as the Manchester giants look to achieve 50 percent of the aforementioned plan to badly dent the title defence that’s already struggling to stay alive.
While the Algeria star didn’t score or assist on his first start since helping to dismantle West Bromwich Albion 5-0 in late January, he did create a couple of shooting opportunities on the day — only Ilkay Gundogan with five key passes had more — as well as play more attacking third passes than the rest of his teammates.
He tied Raheem Sterling’s four shot-creating actions, only three adrift of the impressive Germany international, and led the way for carries into the final third. Despite the adventurous running with the ball, Mahrez wasn’t disposed all night and drew more fouls than any teammate as City frustrated the Clarets.
Liverpool are a different kettle of fish but the prospect of doing to the Reds what the former dished out last term will motivate the visitors as they look to move 10 points above Klopp’s hapless troops.
Salah’s supposed resurgence barely lasted, and injury struck when Mane thought the corner had been turned. Mahrez will be licking his lips, as will City, who are favourites to win on Merseyside this weekend.
Surely Klopp’s forwards will have answers?
It’s about time they showed those battling qualities that saw them become the top dogs in the English game. Surely, Sunday has to be different…but will it?