Mohamed Salah (£13.2m) ensured he would still be in the conversation for Wildcard squads between now and the end of the season by scoring on Friday night.
The Egyptian got his first Premier League goal since Gameweek 26 in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Southampton to slightly ease the pressure on managers to offload him at the first opportunity.
Whether his overall performance at St Mary’s was good enough to warrant continued spending of £13.2m is the main focus of this Scout Notes article.
Southampton 1-3 Liverpool
Goals: Shane Long (£4.6m) | Naby Keita (£7.1m), Mohamed Salah (£13.2m), Jordan Henderson (£5.3m)
Assists: Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (£4.4m) | Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.5m), Henderson, Roberto Firmino (£9.3m)
It was a hard-working if not spectacular performance from Salah in Liverpool’s much-needed win on Friday night. The Egyptian was persistent in his harrying approach but did not necessarily set the world on fire with a trademark attacking display.
For large spells, it was the same Salah we have seen in recent weeks, unsure of himself, prone to too many extra touches in key areas. A classic example of that was in the first half when he was released into space down the right-hand side of the box but invited pressure from the defenders as he took a heavy touch that needed correcting. In the end, Salah was able to recover and his cross into the turn inside the six-yard box nearly led to a Sadio Mané (£10.1m) goal, Angus Gunn (£4.3m) making a save, but it was an all too familiar situation for the Egyptian. Having been put through for a goal-scoring opportunity, his indecision led him to try and offload to someone else, who also couldn’t score.
In the game, three players registered more shots than Salah, including Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (£4.4m), and two, including Mané and Roberto Firmino (£9.3m), had more in the box than him too. The Brazilian and James Ward-Prowse (£5.1m) also created more chances than Salah. Furthermore, Both Firmino and Mané were ahead of their esteemed colleague for expected goal involvement (xGI).
However, the relief Salah showed when he finally found the back of the net could give him a lease of life for the rest of the campaign. The goal he scored was the textbook Salah we have come to know as Fantasy managers; a blistering counter-attack led by the Egyptian culminating in a cool finish into the bottom corner amid pressure from covering defenders.
You could tell from his passionate celebration, in which he took off his shirt and received a yellow card for, and from his post-match interviews that scoring in this important win was a huge weight off his back. There is now every chance he returns to the form we know from him, with matches against Chelsea (home), Cardiff (away), Huddersfield (home), Newcastle (away) and Wolves (home) coming up.
“I think that’s goal number 50 in the Premier League for Liverpool, that’s special. So, after nine games I’m very happy and proud to score the goal and help the team. That’s the most important thing for us. I scored my first goal in nine games, (Henderson) scored his first goal in 20 games!” – Mohamed Salah
“Not at all (when asked if he thought about passing instead of shooting)! As a striker you need to score, I’m always thinking about scoring. I took the decision to take a shot and in the end, it’s a goal so I’m happy about it.” – Mohamed Salah
“It was never in doubt Salah is a great player. It’s 50 in PL for Liverpool, incredible. It’s a nice moment, his first goal after a while.” – Jurgen Klopp
The fact that Mané blanked for the second match in a row, and for the third time in his last four away Premier League matches will have already characterised Blank Gameweek 33 for some managers. Earning 299,854 managers for this depleted round of fixtures, the Senegalese international was the most popular in the transfer market. Furthermore, he finished in a close third in our latest captain poll, just 60 votes behind Salah on 22.2% backing. While Salah looks set to remain in the conversation for Wildcard squads, this Southampton game may remove Mané from it. He came into the match with inferior raw underlying statistics compared to his Egyptian colleague and with two blanks in a row, the unforgiving masses may decide to move on from him.
It is worth noting the importance of Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) and James Milner (£5.6m) to Liverpool as they continue their valiant efforts to win a first-ever Premier League title. The pair were left on the bench for the start of this one, with Fabinho (£5.5m) and Naby Keita (£7.1m) preferred in central midfield.
Without them on the field in the first half, Southampton really took the game to Liverpool and caused them a number of problems going forward. Højbjerg once again demonstrated his credentials as a great fifth midfielder with his advanced runs from central midfield earning him an assist for Shane Long‘s (£4.6m) goal to open proceedings.
That ensured there would be no clean sheet for Liverpool’s defensive options. Andrew Robertson (£6.8m) owners were the ones stung the most as he received a yellow card in the second half resulting in a one-point score, while Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.5m) got the assist for Keita’s equaliser.
“The boys were really happy for Naby in the dressing room, he had multiple hugs. He had two difficult situations early on but then he was in the game and that helped him for sure.” – Jurgen Klopp
Those in possession of the Englishman still had some cause for concern though as it was him who made way for Milner in the second half, while Henderson took to the pitch for Keita. It was their introduction changed the game.
“We needed to be more lively again. It was clear we had these two options. They were aggressive in their play and were verbally aggressive. They woke the boys up. They were in control of our direction and inspired passes in behind and crosses into the box.” – Jurgen Klopp
It was Henderson whose smart header in clearance of a corner that set Salah on his way to score what proved to be the decisive goal. In the closing stages, his hugely impressive darting run from midfield as Firmino laid on a cut-back led to a finish any poacher would have been proud of.
Henderson was generally deployed in a more advanced position which might be worth noting as Liverpool continue to have to dig deep to get results. Whether it’s something Klopp is keen on repeating remains to be seen but if the midfield man does find himself playing further forward then he could prove a nice budget differential in the closing stages of the season. In the end, he was the joint-highest scorer on Friday night with 10 points.
“We spoke about Hendo (playing more forward) but we have other players in that position. How we did it today was fantastic, scoring a goal.” – Jurgen Klopp
As already mentioned, Southampton certainly gave a good account of themselves, as they have often done especially at home against the top-six sides since Ralph Hasenhüttl took over. Their upcoming fixtures do encourage some interest in their assets as they host Wolves in Double Gameweek 34, before travelling to Newcastle and Watford in Double Gameweek 35. After that, poor travellers Bournemouth come to St Mary’s in Gameweek 36.
While it was Long who got Southampton’s goal and put in a tireless shift as their centre-forward for the first hour, it is likely that Danny Ings (£5.4m) will be back in that role for their next match. The former Burnley man was ineligible to face Liverpool on Friday night as he is currently on loan to Southampton from Anfield.
As already mentioned, Højbjerg looks a decent fifth midfielder still as he had more shots than any other Saints player in Blank Gameweek 33’s opening match.
Southampton caused problems for Liverpool from set pieces which could bode well for Jannik Vestergaard (£4.6m) and Ward-Prowse. No Saints player had more efforts inside the opposition box as the Danish centre-back, while the English central midfielder was the top creator.
Jan Valery (£4.1m) continues to look decent value in defence. Although he did not offer any returns in this particular match, he was joint-third out of his colleagues for passes completed in the final third, suggesting the assist potential he carries.
Southampton XI (3-4-2-1): Gunn; Vestergaard (Austin 83′), Yoshida, Bednarek; Bertrand, Højbjerg, Romeu (Armstrong 83′), Valery; Redmond, Ward-Prowse; Long (Sims 62′).
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Robertson, van Dijk, Matip, Alexander-Arnold (Milner 59′); Keita (Lovren 88′), Fabinho, Wijnaldum (Henderson 59′); Mané, Firmino, Salah.