The MNF pundits underline the importance of Mohamed Salah, with Gary Neville saying his team-mates must step up while he's at the Africa Cup of Nations to keep the Reds in the Premier League title race, and Jamie Carragher picking out two players who could fill his spot while he's away
Tuesday 2 January 2024 13:46, UK
Mohamed Salah scored twice and set up another as Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-2 on Monday Night Football - but he now goes away to the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt. His team-mates must ensure Liverpool are still in the title race when he returns, says Gary Neville
The Reds moved three points clear at the top of the Premier League with the win over Newcastle, with a five-point gap on Man City, who have a game in hand, and Arsenal, two of their main rivals for the crown.
Salah has played a big role in Liverpool's run to the top of the table, with 14 goals and eight assists to his name from 20 appearances this season.
But now the pressure is on fellow attackers Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Cody Gakpo to pick up the burden while Salah is away on international duty in January. That trio have just 13 Premier League goals between them.
"In the first half against Newcastle, you wondered whether it was going to be similar to the Manchester United game a couple of weeks ago where they had 30-odd shots in that match and couldn't score a goal but they were far better tonight," said Neville, on the Gary Neville Podcast after the match.
"On the flipside of it, Liverpool have got great options up top and they've got one star player who connects it all together in Mohamed Salah.
"Liverpool have got three world-class players in Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Salah. Van Dijk has been back to his best in this past month or two. Liverpool's defensive record has been good and they've kept a lot of clean sheets. Alisson is the best goalkeeper in the world and they've got somebody who hits numbers from a wide area that is so consistent and delivers year in, year out. It's unbelievable. If they keep those three fit, they're in with a massive chance.
"But Salah going away for a month damages them.
"When Jurgen Klopp first came to Liverpool, I really liked watching them. They were really frantic, there was loads of pressing and it was fast. Sometimes, you didn't quite know what was happening, and sometimes the players didn't either.
"It lacked composure but it was exciting - heavy metal football as he called it. Then it became really smooth along with that electricity and it became a wonderful team that was going head-to-head with Manchester City for a few years.
"A lot of those players have left and they've got back to a transitional period like they were at the beginning under Klopp with Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz. They're not polished yet. They're not at the peak of their careers where you start to make precise decisions.
"There's an electricity to them but also a frustration that in the final third the last part can go a little bit wrong. You wonder what that's going to be like without Salah but they owe it to him to get through the next month still in the title, still at the top of the league and still ahead so they can give Salah a chance to come back and have a real go at the title.
"I didn't think Liverpool would be in a title race and I still don't think they'll do it. The hesitation I have in my voice is due to those three players [Gakpo, Nunez and Diaz] but Klopp is something different as a manager."
Asked what Klopp's solution might be when it comes to filling the gap left by Salah on the right side of Liverpool's attack, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher named two options.
"Liverpool have got in Jota someone who is a great goal scorer. But you saw with Nunez tonight and Diaz - who was fantastic, played his best game in a long time - they're not in great form in front of goal and they're not world class in front of goal.
"So that will be a problem and it will be really interesting to see who he puts in that position.
"A lot of Liverpool's attackers are right footed so they look OK on the left, Jota, Nunez, Gakpo. But no one looks like they have the right balance for the right.
"Harvey Elliott, with that left foot, he comes inside but he's more of a midfield player, he probably lacks pace to play in the front three but he can do it.
"And Dominik Szoboszlai. Liverpool have got a lot of midfield options now Alexis Mac Allister is back, although Wataru Endo is [going to the Asia Cup]. Szoboszlai has played there for his former club.
"But you can't replace Salah's goals, that's very important."