Football Features

Salah, Mane or Firmino – which Liverpool forward is having the best season?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:27, 11 February 2020

Liverpool are going to win the 2019/20 Premier League title.

The Reds are currently 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, having won a frankly preposterous 24 out of 25 games. Liverpool’s defensive record is phenomenal, having conceded just 15 goals all season. By a distance, that’s the lowest figure in the league. Their title charge has been built off this defensive solidity, which has taken some attention away from their attacking trio.

Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané are the sensational three strikers who are so crucial to the way Liverpool play. In 2017/18, Salah was the dominant force and in 2018/19, Mané took centre-stage with a series of key goals.

But which of the trio is having the best 2019/20 in both the Premier League and Champions League? There’s an argument to be made for each one, so we’ve delved into the statistics to try and settle the debate, according to the numbers. Read on to see what they say:

The basics

Firmino has played a total of 2,498 minutes over 31 games in the Champions League and Premier League. Salah has played 2,425 minutes across 28 matches and Mané has completed 2,248 minutes in 28 matches. So they’ve all featured for about the same amount of time, reducing the need for a per-90 metric to make the comparison “fair.”

Goalscoring

The bread and butter of any striker is obviously attack, so who comes out on top? Well, Salah has 18 goals to Mané’s 13 and Firmino’s tally of eight. It’s not a surprise that the Egyptian dominates given that he takes more shots (112 to Firmino’s 86 and Mané’s 66) and has way more touches in the opponent’s box, with 267 compared to 186 for Firmino and 170 for Mané.

What emerges here is how efficient and team-focused Mané is. The Senegalese even has an impressive shot conversion rate of 20%, higher than Salah‘s 16% and Firmino’s lowly 9%. This efficiency comes despite Mané missing a huge 18 big chances, more than Firmino’s 15 and Salah‘s 14.

Salah can seem scattergun at times, but he’s scored 16 of his big chances (Mané has scored eight and Firmino just five). So when you give Salah a big chance, it’s more likely that he’s going to bury it, whereas Firmino and Mané will probably somehow miss.

Winner: Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah

Dribbling

Liverpool have a wonderful harmony amongst their front three, a balance where they can all play on or off the ball in more or less equal measure. So the fact that their dribbling numbers are very similar should not be a shock. Mané has attempted 86 dribbles, while Firmino and Salah’s tallies stand at 85 and 81 respectively. Firmino and Mané have both completed 54, whilst Salah lags behind on 49.

So by a hair (well, one failed take-on) Firmino has the most efficient dribbling. However, it should be noted that Mané has won twice as many fouls (35) as both Firmino (13) and Salah (16). The Senegalese obviously does his dribbling in more dangerous areas, drawing contact from desperate defenders as they dive in to try and cover for themselves.

Winner: Sadio Mané

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Passing

Liverpool’s team is built for their full-backs to do the majority of the dangerous passing, but this doesn’t mean that the front three do nothing. In fact with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson doing so much work out wide for Liverpool it means the forwards can focus on only getting involved when needed.

Firmino dominates this category. The Brazilian has completed 818/1035 passes whilst Mané has 743/906 and Salah 618/805. Firmino has also taken the most touches (1,500), played the most forward passes (237), the most passes into the final third (88) and registered the most assists (10).

Whilst Mané has created more chances (52 to Salah‘s 50 and Firmino’s 48) and Salah has the most big chances created (13 compared to Firmino’s 12 and Mané‘s nine), Firmino is close to the top in both metrics and has also lost the ball less frequently (376 to Mané‘s 380 and Salah‘s 397) than his team-mates. It’s clear that Firmino is the key passer of the front three, with his role as a false nine knitting the entire attack together.

Winner: Roberto Firmino

Defending

Defending is often the last thing that forwards think about, well, normally anyway. In Jurgen Klopp’s side the forwards know they are the first line of defence and have to lead the side in their pressing from the front. Here Firmino is usually the instigator, although Mané has more tackles than the Brazilian (43 to 36) but it’s notable that in terms of tackles won – which counts tackles where the tackler retains possession – Mané is ahead by just one (26 to 25).

This is likely to be because Firmino does more of his tackling pushing up whilst some of Mané’s will be chasing a full-back into defence. Salah, for what it’s worth, is way behind with 13 total tackles and five won.

Roberto Firmino

In fact, Firmino has recovered the ball 111 times, which is more than Mané (107) and considerably more than Salah (67). The Brazilian has also won possession the most times in the attacking third (24 times) and middle third (61), acting out his role as the chief instigator of Liverpool’s press by being their most effective defensive attacker.

To round it all off: Mané has more interceptions (12) than Salah (seven) and Firmino (four), but Firmino has blocked more shots (three) and made more clearances (11) than his two strike partners as well.

Winner: Roberto Firmino

So, which of the Liverpool forwards is having the best season? The answer is, perhaps frustratingly, all of them. Salah is excelling with scoring goals and being a threat in the final third, Firmino is the best passer and leading the way defensively, while Mané is the best dribbler but also scores highly in the other categories too as he has the most balanced role.

Perhaps this means Mané is having the best season as cumulatively he is registering the most impact, but the main reason Liverpool have been so unrelentingly brilliant all season is precisely because they have shared the burden of performance out amongst the entire team.

Everyone is performing superbly so one player does not have to be superhuman, and nowhere is this better expressed than in the Reds’ fabulous front three.

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