On a weekend dominated by speculation over Mohamed Salah‘s future, Luis Diaz offered another glimpse of the ongoing evolution of Liverpool’s attack…
A sedate 2-0 win at Brighton to once again condense the Premier League title race to three points, putting the ball back into Man City’s court, goals from Diaz and Salah settled the issue at the Amex – while the outcome of the future of the scorer of Liverpool’s second goal becomes increasingly uncertain.
Liverpool never really got out of second gear in this one, another game that ticks the March theme of idling along. I referred to it the other day of us having winged it a bit since Wembley.
We aren’t phoning games in by any means, but it could be suggested that we are pacing ourselves, conserving energy for more demanding flurries of games.
Which is a bit mad, considering this game represented the first of a hat-trick of away trips that will define the remainder of our domestic ambitions.
It’s all very Liverpool, but there is a degree of risk as we now head to Arsenal on Wednesday, following that up with a trip to Nottingham Forest where we will either progress to the FA Cup semi-finals or go out of the competition.
Brighton came along at just the right time, a team on a run of four successive defeats.
Even at 1-0, with us failing to make the most of some promising situations and well within our right to harbour a sense of injustice that our opponents should be down to 10 men, there was still no heightened sense of jeopardy.
It never really felt like this was a game that would bite us; we didn’t even seem too bothered that Robert Sanchez evaded not only a red card but even a yellow card for his interpretation of Harald Schumacher vs. Patrick Battiston, circa 1982.
As much of a mood-swing entity Arsenal are, they can bite us should we take a similar approach to Wednesday night.
Mikel Arteta’s team are one you don’t allow to play; you need to dispossess them of their dinner money early on and leave them feeling sorry for themselves, rather than handing them the best of the early exchanges, emboldening them.
That, of course, is something we did at Brighton for the first six minutes or so.
Basically, what will be needed at the Emirates in the first few minutes is Andy Robertson getting into some sort of difference of footballing opinion.
You know, one of those where his chin juts forward, his shoulders retract and his eyes bulge. The trick to beating Arsenal is to demoralise them early doors.
Getting on the end of a magnificent through ball from Joel Matip, Diaz broke the deadlock in East Sussex, sticking his head in where it literally hurt, only for the situation to be completely and utterly Stuart Attwelled.
It was undeniably dangerous play, and Mike Dean should have been advised to take a look at the pitchside monitor. That he wasn’t was inexplicable of the man overseeing VAR.
Happily, it didn’t matter in the panorama of the bigger picture, Salah adding another for Liverpool from the penalty spot in the second half, having wasted or been denied from a selection of opportunities in open play.
All the talk has understandably been about contractual differences of opinion between the club and Salah, but on the pitch, he has been performing like a player who is still wounded by his and Egypt’s loss in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mo is not quite himself at the minute, and his agent has taken to social media with no shortage of emojis when Jurgen Klopp has publicly suggested that there is a contract on the table and it is up to the player if he wants to go for more iconography in a Liverpool shirt or a bigger payday elsewhere.
It is an untidy situation, and one we have experienced before; it is one that usually leads to the player in question exiting the club eventually.
I’m all for the club sticking to a defined pay structure, and if Mo was our only attacking hope, I’d probably be calling for Liverpool to give him whatever his agent is asking for.
Yet as wild as it is to say it out loud, given that I don’t think there is a better player on the face of the planet, there will be life beyond Mo for Liverpool.
In fact, it is a life that is evolving right now, be that Diaz’s wonderful start in a red shirt, or Diogo Jota being good enough to leave Bobby Firmino seemingly surplus to requirements.
Mo isn’t on his own in being at a crossroads. Firmino and Sadio Mane’s contracts are also set to expire at the end of next season.
One, if not two, of that magnificent trio, who have done so much to reinvent Liverpool, will be gone by then – if not cashed in on this summer.
As much as we are currently watching a run-in to a potential quadruple, we might well be seeing the endgame of some of Liverpool’s biggest contemporary names.
Don’t be afraid of change though. Liverpool’s most successful era was elongated on a system of not being afraid of change.
Evolution can be painful, but it can also be for the greater good.