Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah & Liverpool's attack will take Champions League by storm - Goal.com

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Balotelli nightmares are over! Mane, Salah & Liverpool's attack will take Europe by storm

Sep 13, 2017 5:00:00 AMEngland
Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini were part of a defunct attack for the Reds in the competition last time out - there will be no repeat

This very week three years ago, the withdrawal symptoms had finally abated with the iconic anthem echoing around Anfield again as Liverpool returned to "the main event."

It was the moment Steven Gerrard had been “craving” after consuming Champions League football as a spectator rather than a participant for four seasons, during which he was filled with “jealousy and envy.”

Liverpool 4/6 to beat Sevilla

And, typically, it was the captain that ensured the Merseysiders edged Ludogorets on matchday one with a penalty at the death after Mario Balotelli’s fine hold-off and finish was cancelled out by Dani Abalo on 91 minutes.

Mario Balotelli

That home test against the Bulgarians was considered Liverpool’s easiest fixture in a group that also consisted of Basel and Real Madrid, but they toiled, requiring late drama to get over the line.

And that was as good as it got: The 2-1 win served as their only three-pointer in the competition, accompanying a trio of defeats and two draws. They scored just five times, with four arriving in the match-ups against Ludogorets.

Liverpool had morphed from a team that was incredibly strenuous to suppress the season before, to one thoroughly depressing in the final third. Brendan Rodgers felt his men were “a little bit broken,” but a more accurate assessment is that they were utterly bankrupt of pace, incision, inventiveness and electricity.

There was a debilitating drop from having Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge dismantle domestic defences in 2013-14, to Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini taking turns to play the leading role in the tragicomedy of their attack in Europe.

Away to Basel, "Super Mario" didn’t register a single touch in the opposition’s penalty area. Meanwhile at the Bernabeu with a Defeatist XI, Liverpool’s first shot arrived 10 minutes into the second half.

Brendan Rodgers Rickie Lambert

Rodgers admitted he was kept up at night trying to devise ways to rectify a defunct frontline in the absence of an injured Sturridge, but Jurgen Klopp has no such issues as the Reds return to the Champions League proper for the first time since that maladroit campaign.

In Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, he can count on one of the most dynamic, varied threats on the continent while having the luxury of holding the England international - for so long the be-all-and-end-all up front - in reserve.

There is speed, no shortage of technique, intelligence, strength in the dribble, creation both inside and outside plus heavy counter-attacking weaponry, which only Europe's foremost powerhouses could better.

The front three are aided by forward-thinking players throughout the pitch, with Philippe Coutinho set to resume his duties as the supplier-in-chief, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can operate in four of the advanced positions.

Roberto Firmino Sadio Mane Mohamed Salah

It may seem absurd to reference Liverpool’s offensive strength following their 5-0 defeat at Manchester City on Saturday, when despite the obvious caveats of that encounter, the spotlight is on a defence that should have been further strengthened this summer. And with Loris Karius to start in goal over Simon Mignolet in the competition, the rearguard is further promoted as the key talking point as Sevilla are welcomed to Anfield on Wednesday night.

But if the Merseysiders want to tattoo themselves on Group E and the tournament, moving far beyond the level of tourists they appeared in 2014-15, it is their dynamite in the final third that will be decisive.

Beyond allowing the Reds to implement their aggressive blueprint in and out of possession, the frontline also forms the base of protecting their own goal.

Roberto Firmino Mohamed Salah

Firmino is, as per Klopp’s description, the club’s first defender and the pressing of the forwards - their willingness to win back possession and constrict space - is fundamental to success.

"When they get the ball they are very bright, imaginative and creative in the final third," Sevilla manager Eduardo Berizzo detailed. "They like to maintain possession of the ball and press high when they don't have the ball.”

The failure of Liverpool’s attackers to be proactive without the ball in 2014 - Balotelli and Lambert were stylistically at odds with such an approach while Borini was a willing but not clever worker - contributed to their humiliating early exit.

As a whole, Klopp has a much better roster than Rodgers did last time out. Apart from Raheem Sterling, who departed at the end of that season for City, and the now-retired Gerrard, there are no options that could improve the current matchday squad.

GFX Jurgen Klopp quote Liverpool

Liverpool’s depth has increased in both quality and quantity - from the goalkeeping department to the substitutes and in the German, they have a manager well versed in the Champions League art of war.

The 50-year-old has reached the knockout stages in three of his previous four campaigns in the tournament, all with Borussia Dortmund, who were beaten finalists in 2013.

Under Klopp, the Bundesliga side were one of the pre-eminent attacking forces on the continent and given the artillery at his disposal now, it would be no great shock if Liverpool were to adopt that same label.


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