Mane has left for Bayern but Jurgen Klopp has again made some very good signings
A carefully managed evolution has been underway at Liverpool over the last couple of years and is now moving to the next phase.
Confirmation last Tuesday that the club had signed Darwin Nunez from Benfica, and then the exit of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich, marked a significant few days for a squad that has been slowly reshaped by manager Jurgen Klopp since last summer.
The front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were at the peak of their powers as Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and ended the club’s long wait for Premier League title glory the following year.
As this era is now officially at an end with Mane’s exit, we can reflect on how good the Salah, Mane, Firmino combination were and I’d say they are right up there with the great Liverpool attacking line-ups.
Roger Hunt and Ian St John were a strike duo I loved to watch as a young Liveprool fan, then we had Kevin Keegan and John Toshack forming a fearsome partnership.
Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish were special in tandem, before I had a great partnership with Peter Beardsley and John Barnes in the late 1980s. Yet I’d give the Salah, Mane and Firmino striker force the ultimate compliment by suggesting they were as good as anything we’ve seen at Liverpool when they were at their brilliant best and scoring 80 goals a season between them.
Yet it was evident a couple of years ago that the golden trio were losing their spark and Firmino was the first to be edged out of the first team picture.
First Diogo Jota become a first- choice pick after he was signed from Wolves and then Luis Diaz was impossible to leave out of the side as he made such a big impression following his arrival from Porto in January.
Now the exciting Nunez has been added to the mix and Mane has gone, so Klopp and the club’s recruitment team have been shrewd in the way they have revived a forward line that served Liverpool for so long.
When you are operating at a pinnacle, finding players who are as good and possibly even better than what you have already is not easy.
Yet Liverpool have a sparkling track record of success in the transfer market and while some fans will be sad to see Mane leave, they will trust Klopp and those around him to find the right replacements.
I don’t remember seeing too many top clubs chasing Jota or Diaz before they arrived at Liverpool and their impact has been there for all to see.
Now we wait to see what Nunez will bring to the team, but he arrives with a reputation that suggests he will inject pace and goals. I’m also excited to see what young Fabio Carvalho brings to the party when he arrives from Fulham, as he seems to be a sparkling talent.
We don’t know whether Salah will have a future at Liverpool as he continues to stall on signing a new contract, as it seems he is eyeing up a big-money free transfer next summer.
So by next summer, Mane, Salah and Firmino could all be gone and Liverpool will have already replaced their ‘big three’ in fashion that can only be admired.
Look at a forward line featuring Salah, Diaz, Jota, Firmino, Nunez, Carvalho and Takumi Minamino and there are so many options for Klopp to consider.
Salah, Jota, and Carvalho are options in wide positions, while Firmino, Nunez and Minamino can be played down the middle. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mimamino leaves this summer and given Salah’s contract situation, I still feel Liverpool may need one more central striker who can bring 15 to 20 goals a season to complete the jigsaw.
I look at the squad from top to bottom, it has great depth in every position and includes a collection of players that can play in a variety of positions. That offers Klopp real options to change his tactics for particular opponents, which may have been a flaw in their make-up in recent years.
Klopp has backed his team to play with a high defensive line and outscore opponents, but they have had some problems against sides that sit back and have the quality to hold them at bay.
This was the predictable tactic Carlo Ancelotti deployed in the Champions League final, as Real Madrid accepted they were not as good as Liverpool and played a counter-attacking game that worked perfectly for them.
One way Klopp can take his team to the next level would be to inject some variety into his side, to have an alternative tactical plan that could surprise the opposition.
You can never stand still in this game because when you do that, the opposition glide past you and in a summer when Manchester City have already made a huge signing by getting Erling Haaland, Liverpool need to be careful that they don’t let their main rivals pull clear of them.
It will probably need 90 points and more to get in the mix for the Premier League title once again next season and that means Liverpool and City will need some luck in avoiding injuries to key men to get over the finish line.
One way a manager can dilute the impact of key injuries is by making signings that give you top-quality back-up when the first choice players are out. They might not be totally there yet, but Liverpool are well on the way to ensuring they have a squad that can withstand anything thrown at it in the new season.
THIS is a curious story because on so many levels, Mane has been as important to the success of the team in recent years as Mohamed Salah.
Yet there has always been the impression that Salah is the star performer and Mane was some kind of sidekick.
That was unfair in my eyes as Mane often came to the rescue when Salah was having one of his off days. They were becoming more and more frequent for the Egyptian in the second half of last season, but Mane was often the player who popped up with a vital contribution.
He was the perfect player to fit into Klopp’s high-energy style and led from the front with his pressing.
So there is no doubt he deserves to be recognised as a great Liverpool player. A small part of his legacy has been tarnished in my eyes as he has made it very clear that he wants to leave Liverpool this summer.
Why he would want to leave a great team to join a Bayern Munich side who are not as good baffles me.
Yet maybe he got fed up with the perception that he was the second most important striker at Liverpool behind Salah and wanted to be the main man at a top club.
Mane leaves plenty of memories behind at Liverpool and as one of the key men in the side that ended the club’s 30-year wait for a domestic league title.
He will always have a special place in the hearts of the club’s fans.