Liverpool’s win at Stamford Bridge felt like a Sadio Mané highlights reel

Liverpool’s front three remain the standard. Yes, they play a lot. Because they’re so good

Liverpool haven't signed any quality attackers. Liverpool are overly reliant on their front three. Liverpool need a genuine centre-forward.

All these statements, heard on and off through the last few weeks of the summer window, may be true. But neither are true enough to outrank another more palpable fact: the continuing sharp-edged brilliance of Jürgen Klopp’s existing front three.

On a slow-burn afternoon at Stamford Bridge, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah were once again an irrepressible source of incision, and the decisive hand in what was ultimately a perspiration-free 2-0 defeat of Chelsea.

There has been a temptation to worry away at this Liverpool team. The start of the season was marked by vague talk about front-three dependence, driven not by any diminishing powers but by the sheer volume of football played by that well-seasoned Mo-Mané-Bobby front three.


There is something a little counterintuitive about this. Liverpool’s front three do play a lot. They play a lot because – let’s be quite clear – they’re brutally, relentlessly good.

There is a kind of paradox to this. The Premier League is a notoriously reactive place. Opponents learn your strengths, find ways to mitigate and diminish them. So what's going on here? It's been three seasons, chaps, and they're still doing pretty much the same thing, still moving the same way, still combining in the same patterns.

Mané in particular was brilliant at Stamford Bridge. At times this felt like a Mané highlights reel, or a Mané instructional video included with your brand new Sadio Mané. First there was brilliant movement as Mané produced a fine veering run, leaving Jordan Henderson with no option but to play a flat long pass from inside his own half, taking a scalpel to Chelsea's defensive rump with a single swing of the boot.

Mané veered in on goal, coming across Andreas Christensen to block his challenge. Beyond them Kepa Arrizabalaga came haring out of his area, entering the goalkeeping no-man's land that more or less guarantees a jink and a roll into the net. Christensen pulled Mané down with a rugby-style smother-tackle across the shoulders. Martin Atkinson flourished a yellow card, incorrectly. A brief frown at the VAR screen was all it took to upgrade to red.

Then there was the finish for the opening goal, albeit this was a moment that highlighted above all the sublime, deceptively simple interplay between that attacking trident. If Salah doesn’t get you, or Firmino, or Mané, then Salah-Firmino-Mané probably will.

The goal was a beautiful miniature, simple movements executed with perfect clarity. Firmino played the ball sideways to Salah and set off for the return beyond Marcos Alonso, who seemed to be reading the moment in morse code, turning with all the instant snap of a cargo steamship performing a mid-Atlantic U-turn.

The pass from Salah was a lovely little thing, the ball spun and cushioned off the inside of his left foot. Firmino crossed without breaking stride. Mané swivelled and flicked the ball into the top corner with cinematic power.

Finally there was the show- stopping piece of pressing that allowed Mané to read Kepa Arrizabalaga’s wretched attempt to play a straight pass out of his six-yard box, a pass not so much telegraphed as faxed in triplicate and reposted by registered mail just to be sure.

Mané took it on his toe, sniped right and spanked the ball into the net to make it 2-0. From there Liverpool could spend the rest of this game enjoying what was in effect an extended warm-down; plus a chance to enjoy Thiago Alcântara’s ability to inflict a lingering death by lactic acid on opponents forced to chase the ball.

For Chelsea Timo Werner was lively in defeat and looked once again what he is, a genuinely fine centre-forward. Logic insists Werner would have been an upgrade had Klopp managed to sign him. But logic also overlooks the weird, intangible voodoo of what Klopp already has, the way those combinations seem to have evolved out of some perfect tessellation of strengths.

Another kill, then, for Liverpool’s attacking trident. But this was also a game that turned around two managerial decisions: one forced by a lack of players; the other pulled out of an excess of them.

First Klopp was obliged to play Fabinho in central defence. Second Frank Lampard chose to play Werner on the left of his attack, no doubt in part to isolate a makeshift centre-half and an overly advanced right-back against Werner's speed and lateral spring. One of these decisions worked. The other didn't.

Werner did get the chance to run at Fabinho, but was capably dealt with by a stand-in who has played in central defence for Liverpool and for Brazil, and who was a right-back at Monaco. It felt like sacrificing a strength– Werner through the middle – to pry at what was only a theoretical weakness.

Inside Werner Kai Havertz was just an absence. It will take a little longer to find his best role. Forward combinations can be as mysterious, as evasive as frustratingly difficult to work as finding the perfect midfield balance or drilling a defence. Three years on that Liverpool front three, so more than the sum of its parts, remains the standard. - Guardian