Liverpool have reaped the rewards of strength in depth among their forwards this season.
They won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020 with the ‘Fab Three’ and Divock Origi, but didn’t have the wherewithal to compete on multiple fronts, as Jurgen Klopp essentially gave up on the domestic cups, fielding second teams that fell way short of the mark.
Now, with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz turning a Fab Three into five, the quadruple is still on, with the backups pushing the starters for their place in the team at every turn. There are now differing opinions as to which players make up Liverpool’s best front three, and Klopp is able to rest and rotate without ruining his team’s chance of victory, even in the toughest games.
Before Jota arrived in September 2020 we were all questioning how on earth Liverpool would cope without Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. The Portuguese forward eased that concern and Diaz’s arrival in January has eased it further.
And now, with the Fab Three all out of contract at the end of next season, we’re instead left wondering which of them they could do without.
The obvious answer is Firmino. He’s now very much seen as the least fabulous of the five, with his recent foot injury sending nowhere near the sort of shockwaves through the media compared to if Mane and Salah had been struck down. But he will have a meagre sell-on value and significantly lower wage demands than the African pair.
Salah has improved terms on the table, but wants more, and 90min understands that Mane – who wants to stay – has been told by the club to wait until the end of the season for a new offer.
The Senegal international reportedly wants £250,000-£300,000 a week, which would make him the club’s highest paid player. That is unless owners Fenway Sports Group agree to Salah’s £400,000 demands. They shouldn’t, by the way.
FSG believe the instant impact Diaz has made has put Klopp in an excellent position to transition his squad, which could mean moving forward without Salah, or without Mane, or without either.
Losing both would be a big risk ahead of next season. Liverpool have done stunning work in the transfer market, but they would put themselves in a situation where they would have to find a guaranteed 20-goal-a-season striker to bear the load of Salah or Mane, and rely on Diaz and/or Jota cover the rest. Their transfer wizardry can’t continue forever.
But selling one of them does make sense. Although five excellent forwards is a luxury, it’s also a headache. And if Liverpool can find a buyer for Mane, who could fetch them between £50m and £80m, the club could move for a cheaper, younger option on smaller wages, while also looking to develop other areas of the squad.
What’s clear from the Salah negotiations is that Liverpool don’t want to be bent over a barrel. And they’re now in a far better position to remain upright. With Diaz, Jota and their position in world football as a hugely attractive proposition for further talent, they don’t need Salah or Mane as much as they did even six months ago. They can hold the line and play chicken in contract negotiations.
Given both Salah and Mane want very high wages, it feels unlikely, given the strength of their position, that FSG will grant both of them what they wish. And faced with a choice of one or the other, Liverpool would surely opt for Salah, who’s been their top goalscorer in all of his four seasons at the club and is seemingly immune to fluctuations in form.
So this season could be Mane’s last, as Liverpool move to make a profit this summer on a player who, unbelievably, they no longer need.