Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have each scored six league goals this season (Getty Images)A dozen games into the season and Liverpool are still clinging on to Manchester City’s coattails in the Premier League table with just two points separating the top two.
While City are two points worse off at this stage of the season than they were this time last year, Liverpool have drastically improved, cutting the deficit between them by eight points.
The fundamental factor behind Liverpool’s title challenge has been their defensive solidity as they rank joint-top with City for fewest goals conceded with five apiece. By the end of November, 2017, Liverpool had shipped 17 league goals.
The signings of Virgil Van Dijk in January and Alisson in July, have solved two major areas of weakness, while the development of youthful trio Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson has been profound.
So impressive has Liverpool’s defence been in fact, that they have even managed to take some of the shine away from their much-vaunted front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and last season’s goalscoring record-breaker, Mohamed Salah.
Although Liverpool are still renowned for the potency of their attackers, they have actually scored fewer goals (23) than every other team in the top five with the exception of Spurs (20) so far this season.
Their goals against columns might be identical, but City’s overall goal difference is far superior than that of their nearest challengers as they have scored 13 times more. As happy as he will be with the stinginess of his defence, Klopp will want his attackers to reduce that gap in the coming weeks.
Roberto Firmino has found goals tough to come by so far this season (Getty Images)While much has been made of the form of Salah and Firmino in particular, it is interesting to compare their respective goal tallies now from 12 months ago. Salah is three goals worse off with six compared to nine, but only three players have outscored him in the division. Firmino, meanwhile, is down by just one, from three goals to two and his output noticeably improved from December onwards in 2017-18.
Making up for the deficit in Salah and Firmino’s goals has been Mane, who has doubled his total from three to six following a strong start to the campaign. Overall, Liverpool’s attackers have scored just one goal fewer between them at the 12-game mark.
There is an argument to be made that Liverpool’s ensemble of talented central midfielders need to do more to reduce the goalscoring pressure on Salah, Firmino and Mane, yet Liverpool’s front three can also do more to help narrow that goal deficit with City, starting against Watford on Saturday.
Aside from a shock 3-0 defeat against Watford in the first meeting between the two clubs after the Hornets’ promotion in 2015, Liverpool have a good record against this weekend’s opponents, winning four and drawing one of the other five games and racking up 17 goals in the process.
Watford might be seventh in the table and on the verge of handing manager Javi Gracia a new long-term contract, but history suggests they are the perfect opponent for Liverpool’s front three to rediscover their most devastating form.
In just two appearances against Watford last season, Salah directly contributed towards six goals (five goals and one assist). Only Luis Suarez has a better goal involvement against an opponent in Premier League history, with seven (five goals, two assists) in two games against Cardiff.
Salah walking off with the match-ball after scoring four times against Watford last season (Getty Images)Firmino, meanwhile, has been involved in seven goals from his previous five games against the Hornets, scoring four times and assisting a further three, while Mane has three goals and two assists to show from his three league appearances against them for Liverpool.
Watford are much-improved under Gracia but the 4-0 home defeat to Bournemouth in October demonstrated that they can be pulled apart by teams possessing fluidity, pace and ruthlessness in attack. As good as Ryan Fraser, David Brooks and Callum Wilson have been this season, Salah, Firmino and Mane are another level above.
Liverpool’s form has stuttered somewhat of late but it is a testament to their new-found resolve that they remain within touching distance of City. Should their front three click into top-gear over the festive period, Pep Guardiola and his players will certainly be looking nervously over their shoulders.
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