The final match of a largely dispiriting Gameweek 29 was suitably underwhelming.
Many Fantasy managers endured an awful Saturday and there was to be little consolation on Sunday evening for those hoping for goals at Goodison Park.
While Liverpool’s defenders returned yet more clean sheet and bonus points for their owners in a goalless Merseyside derby, the Reds’ attacking assets once again flattered to deceive on the road.
The Reds’ next away match happens to be in Blank Gameweek 31, when many FPL bosses will be opting for a Liverpool double or triple-up – but there may be nagging doubts creeping in regarding the captaincy credentials of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane after this latest showing.
The fact that Fulham have conceded at least two or more goals in each of their last four home matches offers plenty of hope that Liverpool’s lean spell away from Anfield will come to an end, though the Cottagers did deliver a spirited showing in the west London derby on Sunday.
Liverpool’s form in their last five away league matches now reads: P5, W1, D3, L1, F3, A3.
The record of the Reds’ first-choice front three – Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino – in those fixtures is exactly the same: five appearances, one goal, no assists.
Liverpool’s remaining four away fixtures (Fulham, Southampton, Cardiff and Newcastle) look a darn sight more appealing than the five they have just contested (trips to both Manchester clubs and a Merseyside derby among them) but their subdued attacking displays on the road in 2019 give legitimate cause for concern.
When all 20 top-flight clubs are filtered by their last four away matches, the Reds (who most recently faced Brighton, West Ham, an injury-hit Manchester United and Everton) sit in the bottom half of the table for goals scored, overall goal attempts and shots on target, while they sit tenth for efforts in the opposition box.
Their latest muted performance is the subject of our Scout Notes piece below.
Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Mohamed Salah (£13.5m) delivered his fifth blank in six Gameweeks on Sunday afternoon.
When penalties are stripped away, the Egyptian has three goals and two assists in the last 11 Gameweeks.
Salah’s only attacking return away from home in 2019 was indeed from the penalty spot in the victory over Brighton in Gameweek 22.
There is little wrong with the 2017/18 Player of the Year’s underlying stats, however, even on the road.
Salah sits top or joint-top among FPL midfielders for attempts in the box, shots on target and big chances over the last six away matches and completely outshines Sadio Mane (£9.7m), whose figures are only half as good as the Egypt international’s or worse over the same period.
Sunday’s showing at Goodison Park was another one of Salah’s “almost” displays.
Two of Liverpool’s best chances in the Merseyside derby fell at the feet of Salah, who spurned a one-on-one opportunity against Jordan Pickford (£4.9m) in the first half and then later dithered long enough in a similar situation to allow Michael Keane (£4.8m) to stage a last-gasp intervention.
Salah’s touch has always been inconsistent – even in his phenomenal 2017/18, the Egyptian’s tendency to get dispossessed, dribble down cul-de-sacs or waste “big chances” saw him repeatedly penalised on the Bonus Points System.
When Liverpool aren’t creating as many opportunities to mask those failings, Salah’s shortcomings are all the more apparent.
As one would expect, Jurgen Klopp defended the Egyptian after full-time:
When you see the situation, he’s doing everything right [until] the last moment. We had our moments. There’s no reason for taking it or not taking it.
There’s all different things. It’s really the pitch sometimes. The boys are able to score situations like this but it’s an inch on the boot.
On another day, he scores two or three and today not. That’s all that happened. Absolutely stay cool and play football, fight for everything and everything will be fine in the end. That’s how it is.
The time will inevitably come, perhaps in the next few Gameweeks, when Salah will convert a couple of those “big chances” into another double-digit haul.
The fear of missing out on those returns is what inevitably drives Fantasy managers to retain the Egyptian’s services in spite of the barren run, with Salah still the most-owned player in FPL.
Mane’s ownership has rocketed over the last few Gameweeks as his form at Anfield demanded attention but the Senegalese midfielder’s recent record on the road is just as bad as Salah’s: on Sunday, the former Southampton winger didn’t register a single shot or key pass and touched the ball just once in the Everton area, despite playing as the “centre-forward” in Klopp’s 4-3-3.
The contrast between Liverpool’s form at Anfield and their recent record on the road is stark but Klopp prickled when a reporter suggested that he may have shown more ambition on Sunday:
Do you think we didn’t take enough risks today? Was there any draw where we didn’t try to win? Bring on an extra attacker and football changes? It is not like that. We are offensive enough, football doesn’t work like that.
You need the right things in the right moment and that doesn’t only work if another striker [is on the pitch]. You cannot start with four or five strikers in a striker way with nothing else to do than to try to score. We are an offensive team and that’s absolutely OK – we take a risk, no doubt about it, but it is not like that.
You cannot play in the Premier League like that; we play next week against Burnley and if we play only offensive, they [will] kill us on the counter-attack, 100 per cent. We take all the risks, but you cannot take more than 100 per cent risk. It’s not about ‘going nuts’, it’s not about that.
Liverpool did have their openings on Sunday: as well as Salah’s two gilt-edged opportunities, Fabinho (£5.5m) should have done better with what Opta deemed a “big chance” from a set play, while Joel Matip (£4.9m) headed a corner wide and Mane could only nod a Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) cross back across goal when well-placed.
The fit-again Firmino was only among the substitutes for this encounter but, along with James Milner (£5.6m), was thrown on with 27 minutes to go.
Klopp explained his decision to start both players on the bench ahead of kick-off:
Millie just felt a little bit his hamstring. If Millie gives a warning sign… I think he would have been fine but the last two days he felt it still. So there is no reason for risk, especially when we have options on the bench, which we had in the last game.
Hendo is a very, very important player for us, so it’s good he can be back.
Bobby trained yesterday and it looked really good, so he is on the bench because he could be an option. I didn’t think it was necessary to bring him immediately after the good game we played on Wednesday.
While their attacking assets toiled, Liverpool’s defence racked up their 17th clean sheet of the season – as many as they registered in the whole of 2017/18.
Virgil van Dijk (£6.6m) was sublime at centre-back, while Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.4m) banked maximum bonus points despite his delivery from dead-ball situations being not quite as on-point as it was against Watford in midweek.
Not that Everton didn’t have their chances: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£5.3m) produced a tame header from a pinpoint Lucas Digne (£5.2m) corner, while Bernard (£5.9m) was inches away from connecting with a low Richarlison (£6.5m) centre as the hosts pushed for an unlikely winner.
Richarlison had been dropped to the bench for this encounter, with compatriot Bernard replacing him on the left flank, but looked hungrier than he did against Cardiff when thrown on as a second-half substitute.
This wasn’t really a match to gauge Everton’s attacking assets from a Fantasy perspective but Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.2m) grafted admirably in “the hole”, while the Toffees’ backline were uncharacteristically solid after their recent struggles at home.
It’s back-to-back clean sheets for the blue half of Merseyside following their win in South Wales and Marco Silva was content at full-time:
In my opinion, in the second half we were better and in the final 20-30 minutes, we controlled the game.
We had a good chance with Bernard but so did they with Mo Salah. It was a very good moment for Michael [Keane] dealing with that.
We spoke at half-time about how we wanted to press higher and improve how we applied our pressure in midfield.
We had a few moments where had we had made a different decision in our attack, it could have give us the chance to win the match.
But it was a clean sheet in a tough match against a strong side. We did well, it is just unfortunate we couldn’t get all three points.
Everton XI (4-3-3): Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne; Schneiderlin (Andre Gomes 76′), Gueye; Walcott (Richarlison 59′), Sigurdsson, Bernard; Calvert-Lewin (Tosun 74′).
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum (Milner 63′); Salah, Mane (Lallana 84′), Origi (Firmino 63′).