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Liverpool analysis – Diogo Jota gamble backfires after Jonjo Shelvey insult – Liverpool Echo

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Klopp gamble backfires

Clearly, there’s a reason why Jurgen Klopp has largely resisted going all-out in attack this season.

Having mixed and matched his main forwards in recent weeks, the Liverpool boss regarded the visit of Newcastle United as the ideal opportunity to unleash the four-pronged forward line that had been called for by many Reds supporters.

Given his team’s chronic inability to score at Anfield – it’s now just four goals in 10 games in 2021, a truly astonishingly poor return – Klopp couldn’t blamed for throwing his chief attackers in from the start for only the third time this season.

In terms of creating chances, the decision was justified. But the gamble only pays off if those opportunities are converted and, frustratingly but increasingly inevitably, they weren’t.

Sadio Mane is clearly struggling for confidence, Roberto Firmino was restricted to intermittent moments of promise and a whole load of frustration, while the Diogo Jota impersonator wearing the number 20 shirt wasn’t particularly convincing.

Mane and Firmino in particular look exhausted, mentally rather than physically.

Prioritising attack over defence caused an imbalance with Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara overworked as the midfield two, and the backline opened up too often for comfort before half-time.

When Liverpool switched to a more sturdy 4-3-3 shortly before the hour, Newcastle had already gained sufficient confidence they could quell the Red tide.

Indeed, the visitors were so assured that they had no issue moving former Reds midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to centre-back for the final quarter. If not the final insult, it was up there.

Salah the only shining light

There aren’t many positives Liverpool can take from a tortuous, testing campaign.

But the one shimmering, shining light remains undisputed.

Where would the Reds be without Mohamed Salah this season?

The Egyptian did what he has been all campaign, finding the target for his 29th goal in all competitions this campaign, his 20th in the top flight.

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It made Salah the first Liverpool player to reach that landmark in three Premier League campaigns, and moved him up to 12th in the club’s all-time goalscorer list.

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Not bad for someone who hasn’t yet been at Anfield for four years.

And what a strike it was too, turning sharply inside the area to give Jurgen Klopp’s side a platform on which they subsequently failed to build.

The frustration for Salah and Liverpool is that he didn’t add to his tally, firing at Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka when put clear in the first half and dragging a shot wide from a good position after the break.

Forwards, though, will always miss chances. But not everyone can convert as many as Salah does. He remains Liverpool’s most important player.

Reds assume Sven mantle

Jurgen Klopp could never be mistaken for Sven-Goran Erkisson, so contrasting are their personalities.

But there is a danger his Liverpool are acquiring an unwanted trait of one of Eriksson’s more memorable managerial stints.

“Good first half, not so good second half,” was an expression that gained currency during the Swede’s England reign, as his team curiously became unable to maintain a level of performance throughout a full 90 minutes.

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And that is becoming the norm for the Reds who, as at Leeds United on Monday and Real Madrid five days previous, fell away disappointingly after half-time.

It means Liverpool have taken only five home points in 2021 – only Fulham have fewer – with their failure against the Premier League’s strugglers underlined by taking only 11 points in 11 games against the bottom seven.

Next up it’s a trip to Manchester United, a team who have found pandemic football very much to their liking. Lose there and European qualification – let alone the Champions League – will be under threat.

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