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LUIS DIAZ and MOHAMED SALAH are making Liverpool problem more obvious

The performances of both Manchester United and Liverpool in their recent clash made for a sharp contrast with the matches they played last season. The Reds won both games in 2021/22 at a canter yet in their last trip to Old Trafford they went 2-0 down in the Premier League for the first time in almost two years.

 

Despite this, Jurgen Klopp thought his side deserved the points. “We should have won this game, I know it sounds ridiculous but that is how I saw it,” he said. Most Liverpool supporters definitely did not see the match in that light.

 

United were clearly better organised and played with far greater intent than they did in either match last term and inevitably gave the Reds a far tougher test as a result. A key moment from the previous meeting at Anfield perhaps sums up what Liverpool have lacked in an attacking sense this season.

 

The opening goal of the 4-0 victory in April was crafted by Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz. The former made a pass from the right side of the penalty area and it delivered the highest value chance of the Colombian’s Premier League career to date ( per Understat ). He couldn’t miss.

 

Diaz also had the Reds’ best chance at Old Trafford earlier this week, though the proximity of David de Gea ensured this one was far harder to convert. Once again, the key pass came from Salah’s side of the box, except this time it was James Milner who delivered it. The veteran had clearly been instructed to get forward as often as he could, as evidenced by him having his most touches in the penalty area since Liverpool beat Bournemouth 3-0 back in February 2019.

 

As Milner created the Reds’ only clear-cut chance in their 2-1 loss, Klopp could argue that the ploy to have him move forward more frequently than usual worked. It’s not as if Salah could have played the key pass any better either, but the distance between himself and Diaz throughout the match, particularly with Roberto Firmino dropping deep, seemed counter-productive.

 

Liverpool’s first choice wide forwards have played all-but 12 minutes of the league campaign together so far (as Diaz was replaced by Fabio Carvalho for the closing stages of the draw with Fulham ). In those 258 minutes together, they’ve exchanged just five passes.

 

As they play on opposite sides of the attack, at first glance a rate of one pass every 52 minutes doesn’t seem that odd. However, when you consider they exchanged one more than three times as frequently in the Premier League last season, their record in 2022/23 starts to look more unusual.

Diaz also had the Reds’ best chance at Old Trafford earlier this week, though the proximity of David de Gea ensured this one was far harder to convert. Once again, the key pass came from Salah’s side of the box, except this time it was James Milner who delivered it. The veteran had clearly been instructed to get forward as often as he could, as evidenced by him having his most touches in the penalty area since Liverpool beat Bournemouth 3-0 back in February 2019.

 

As Milner created the Reds’ only clear-cut chance in their 2-1 loss, Klopp could argue that the ploy to have him move forward more frequently than usual worked. It’s not as if Salah could have played the key pass any better either, but the distance between himself and Diaz throughout the match, particularly with Roberto Firmino dropping deep, seemed counter-productive.

 

Liverpool’s first choice wide forwards have played all-but 12 minutes of the league campaign together so far (as Diaz was replaced by Fabio Carvalho for the closing stages of the draw with Fulham ). In those 258 minutes together, they’ve exchanged just five passes.

 

As they play on opposite sides of the attack, at first glance a rate of one pass every 52 minutes doesn’t seem that odd. However, when you consider they exchanged one more than three times as frequently in the Premier League last season, their record in 2022/23 starts to look more unusual.

 

The rate at which those passes created chances has dropped from 3.8 to 5.0 this season too. Strangely enough, what occurred immediately after the one chance they’ve fashioned between them in this campaign led to a change which Klopp may need to use more often.

 

Early in the second half of the match against Crystal Palace, Diaz tried to convert a cross from Salah with an ambitious overhead kick which was never likely to trouble Vicente Guaita. A few seconds later, Darwin Nunez headbutted Joachim Andersen and the Reds were down to 10. Liverpool switched to a 4-3-2 formation with their wide forwards playing more centrally and three minutes later Diaz scored an equaliser.

From the red card to full time, their average positions were within the width of the penalty area, albeit Salah wasn’t too heavily involved. Prior to that they had been on the flanks, with Nunez almost perfectly central just outside the box.

 

An away match against United is inevitably going to differ from a home game against Palace, but Firmino’s average position at Old Trafford was on the edge of the centre circle. With Jota injured and Nunez still suspended, the Brazilian will likely start Liverpool’s games with Bournemouth and Newcastle.

 

And this leaves Klopp with a tactical decision to make for those games. While many fans are most concerned about the midfield and the ease with which opposing teams have cut through the side this season, there’s an issue up front too. Instructing Diaz and Salah to play closer together, and not out wide, could solve it.

 

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