The ‘Fab Four’ have become the ‘Thrilling Three’, as Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane show Liverpool can still win without Philippe Coutinho, writes Peter Smith…
They sold Coutinho but they’ve still got Salah, Mane and Bobbie Firmino – or so the Kop’s new favourite song goes.
And while the loss of the brilliant Brazilian to Barcelona is, undoubtedly, a blow, Liverpool showed in their electric 4-3 victory over Manchester City that their remaining front three still have plenty of thrilling firepower.
They certainly needed it, with the Reds’ error-prone defence throwing the visitors an unlikely lifeline late on. But in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Jurgen Klopp has pace, power and precision-finishing at his disposal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put Liverpool ahead with a low, long-range drive, but when Leroy Sane danced in from the left flank and lashed the ball past Loris Karius at his near post, City looked like they would go on to rack up a 21st Premier League win this season. Nicolas Otamendi was the width of the bar away from making it 2-1.
“The game was in our hands,” reflected Pep Guardiola afterwards. “But then, after 10 to 15 minutes, it went from 1-1 to 4-1.”
The official timing showed Liverpool’s three-goal blitz came in just nine second-half minutes, as Firmino out-muscled John Stones before converting a wonderful chip, Mane smashed a left-foot stunner into the top corner and Salah trapped Ederson’s panicked, mis-hit clearance and lofted it over the stranded goalkeeper to take the game away from the Premier League’s runaway leaders.
Jurgen Klopp praised both Liverpool and Manchester City for the way they played during the Reds' 4-3 win.
Or so we thought. Instead, Liverpool’s nervy backline allowed City back into it, with Bernardo Silva and then Ilkay Gundogan setting up a grandstand finish. But Liverpool held on – and can reflect on becoming the first English team to beat Manchester City this season, and having done so without £146m man Coutinho.
Leading the line was Firmino, who had posted on Facebook “Liverpool is no longer the same without you” after his good friend left the club this week. But his compatriot’s departure didn’t put him off his game. Perhaps it ramped up Firmino’s determination to make his mark.
Only central midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum covered more ground than Firmino, only Mane made more sprints, as the 26-year-old striker tore across the turf to find space, to create space, to hold up the ball and link up with his team-mates.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola congratulated Liverpool on their 4-3 win over his side and insisted they must now focus on their next game.
That tireless, selfless style has become Firmino’s trademark since he arrived in 2015 but his composed finish over Ederson also highlighted his often overlooked finesse with the ball at his feet.
“We’re talking about one of the most underrated players in the Premier League in Firmino,” Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said afterwards.
“He’s very highly rated by the manager but outside of Liverpool you certainly don’t mention him when you’re talking about the top strikers, because we don’t see him as an out-and-out goalscorer in the way we see Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku.
Liverpool’s thrilling three v Man City Goals Assists Chances created Shots Hit woodwork Firmino 1 1 3 3 0 Salah 1 1 2 6 0 Mane 1 0 1 3 1
“But this season he’s got 16 goals. I’d say he’s the first name on the teamsheet with his hold up play, his work off the ball, but now, getting goals, he’s one of the top attacking players in the Premier League.”
Mane and Salah can also claim to have that standing. While the Senegal international may not have hit the great heights of last season, with six goals and four assists to his name from 14 Premier League starts this season, he’s in a good position to surpass his 2017/18 figures of 13 goals and five assists.
As for Salah, his opportunistic strike on Sunday takes his tally for the season to 24 goals and seven assists across all competitions. That’s some return already on Liverpool’s £34m summer investment to bring him from Roma. “I can’t think of a Liverpool signing who has ever, in the history of the club, made a better start,” said Carragher.
Combined, they make a tremendous trio capable of pulling apart the Premier League’s meanest defence, as they showed at Anfield. “You score four goals after the week Phil Coutinho left the club, it’s a big statement,” Klopp told Sky Sports. And it certainly was.
They may have been disappointed by his departure, but Liverpool supporters can look ahead to the post-Coutinho era with excitement of what’s to come.