After a thrilling 2017-18 season, Liverpool sought better balance and an improved defence in 2018-19. They managed that, and in the end that attack of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah remained one of the best—and arguably the best—in both the league and Europe.
The question of which player was the standout, though, doesn’t seem quite as clear cut today as it might have a year ago.
When Liverpool have the ball, their Brazilian false nine remains the fulcrum around which the attack operates as he drops deep, creating the space for Salah and Mané to break into as narrow wide forwards. Without it, he sets the press and is the first line of defence. Both with and without the ball, Firmino is key no matter what the goals and assists tallies add up to—and while a different sort of centre forward might score more, that in turn would hurt Salah and Mané, potentially limiting their chances and negatively impacting Liverpool’s attack as a whole.
Not that his goals and assists tallies are anything to turn your nose up at—his 12 league goals still have him as 16th best, and his 16 goals and 8 assists in all competitions for a goal involvement every 140 minutes is a very solid return. One can certainly imagine a different centre forward scoring more goals for Liverpool, but it’s hard to imagine Liverpool’s attack looking better than it does when he’s on form and leading it.
After scoring 44 goals last season, there was probably no way Salah’s 2018-19 wouldn’t be seen as a downgrade in at least some quarters. In the end, though, his so-called down year still saw the Egyptian superstar winning the Golden Boot in England while scoring 26 goals and adding 13 assists in all competitions.
Often overlooked, too, are his defensive contributions; his willingness to run for the team. During those times when goals perhaps weren’t coming as easily for him as they did last season, Salah continued to create chances—and he always seemed to pop up at least once in a match with a key contribution. Sometimes it was a goal or assist. Sometimes it was racing back to cover for the right-sided fullback getting caught up the pitch. Even if he didn’t score 44 goals again, Salah was always involved positively—and he was still joint-top in goals and joint-second in assists for the Reds.
Like Salah, Mané scored 22 times in the league, sharing the Golden Boot with his teammate and with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He also, like Salah, scored 26 goals in all competitions, along with five assists. More than simply the goal totals, though, many will remember their importance to Liverpool’s 97-point Premier League season and to reaching the Champions League final for the second year in a row.
There was a time during the winter, while Firmino and Salah ran cold and Liverpool dealt with injuries that meant that at times the team didn’t look at its fluid best, where Mané scored one important goal after another. There was a time when it felt as though any result the Reds got, be it a win or a draw, was thanks to Mané putting the team on his back and doing something spectacular. He might not be the clear-cut favourite here—Firmino’s importance to the team and Salah’s totals can’t be overlooked—but more than anyone else it felt as though when Liverpool weren’t at their best this season it was Mané who bailed them out, and for many that will be the deciding factor.
Liverpool’s 2018-19 Forward of the Season
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