sport news Liverpool's attacking woes: The numbers that show why Liverpool MUST spend big

How did it come to this?

For all the issues the team has had this season - and there have been plenty - Liverpool cannot make excuses for their failure to put the ball in the back of the net.

Indeed, Jurgen Klopp's team has been ravaged by injuries to vital personnel this season, leaving a squad which surged so devastatingly to the Premier League title 12 months ago badly wounded and out of sorts.

Even now the Merseyside giants are back to playing a midfielder, Fabinho, at the heart of defence, while alongside him a loanee star, Ozan Kabak, is desperately trying to learn the tricks of the trade in the English top flight to secure a permanent switch.

It all has an impact, naturally. The fact that Liverpool have been without influential captain and leader Jordan Henderson for so long hasn't helped matters, yet one thing has remained a constant. Liverpool's formidable and world-renowned front three.

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Or, rather, once formidable.

The breathtaking forward trident of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have remained an ever-present. Yet the goals... well, they have simply dried up. With five games to go, Liverpool's goal tally is 55. At this point last season, they had 72.

Sadio Mane's drop-off this season has left Liverpool struggling to make the top four

Mo Salah is still finding the back of the net but key chances are still going missing

Sadio Mane (left) and Mo Salah failed to help Liverpool see out a much needed win over Newcastle, once again sparking the debate the the attacking line at Anfield has fallen off

With defence in tatters, a lack of goals was exactly the headache Jurgen Klopp did not need

With defence in tatters, a lack of goals was exactly the headache Jurgen Klopp did not need

Even Diogo Jota, who has been a revelation this season and stepped up admirably after signing from Wolves, has struggled to make a prolonged impact following his return from a troublesome knee injury.

From leading positions this season Liverpool have squandered a quite remarkable 15 points. In their last three matches they have, embarrassingly, scored only twice from 54 shots on goal. 

So, what on earth is going on? Liverpool, it must be said, are still making chances. Lots of them, and rather frequently.

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The burning issue at hand is that they simply are not converting like they used to. The struggles of this season would be much less painful had the attackers who have made such a name for themselves in recent years hit the right notes. 

So, in an attempt to answer the important questions surrounding the disappearance of Liverpool's goals when they need them most, Sportsmail first considered a rather interesting - albeit controversial - recent opinion shared by former Reds striker Michael Owen.

Speaking recently during his punditry duties with BT Sport, Owen suggested that despite Salah and Mane's brilliance 'they're not natural finishers, not someone that you can hang your hat on'.

'They've scored goals consistently because Liverpool have, like today, created so many chances,' he added.

'But they've been wanting, or the team have been found wanting, a lot of the season with missed chances.'

Michael Owen insisted fallen champions Liverpool can't 'hang their hat' on Salah and Mane

Michael Owen insisted fallen champions Liverpool can't 'hang their hat' on Salah and Mane 

So, is Owen right? The controversial former Reds striker who did the unthinkable and moved to Old Trafford did not have his words universally well received, but the underlying tone does appear to make sense.

It's important to establish here that Salah has 20 league goals to his name this season and is second only to Harry Kane (by one strike) in the race for the Golden Boot.

The Egyptian is a colossus in front of goal and has continued doing the business for Liverpool season upon season, but his sublime volley against Newcastle on Saturday was offset by the squandering of a clear cut one-on-one chance which would have given his side the vital second goal they craved.

This, Owen emphasised, was what he meant by the finishing instincts of the forward line. Or, rather, a lack thereof.

Salah has played more minutes than any of his attacking team-mates this season for one simple reason; Jurgen Klopp cannot afford to drop him.

Though the 28-year-old may appear to be missing more chances this season than in years gone by, it's fair to say Liverpool would be lost without him. What is more concerning for Klopp is the fact that Jota has played over 500 league minutes fewer than both Mane and Firmino, yet has the same amount of goals as the Senegal star and two more than the Brazilian.

Jota appears to be the lifeline in the front line with his ability to offer something new, and has exposed Liverpool's need to freshen up their formerly devastating trident after seasons of relentless dependency.

The issue, however, comes down to team work. Much has been made this season of Jota overshadowing Firmino and essentially pushing the Brazilian towards the exit door - but stats reveal that Firmino links up with Salah better than anybody else.

THE LINK-UP BETWEEN LIVERPOOL'S FRONT LINE SO FAR THIS SEASON (Opta) Player 1 Player 2 Mins together Passes to each other Per 90 Chances created for each other Per 90 Assists for Each other Diogo Jota Mohamed Salah 745 51 6.2 6 0.7 1 Diogo Jota Roberto Firmino 658 63 8.6 8 1.1 0 Diogo Jota Sadio Mané 648 42 5.8 8 1.1 3 Mohamed Salah Roberto Firmino 2212 228 9.3 24 1 3 Mohamed Salah Sadio Mané 2102 112 4.8 22 0.9 0 Roberto Firmino Sadio Mané 2135 175 7.4 14 0.6 3

Big questions are being asked of Roberto Firmino (left) as new boy Diogo Jota (right) continues to settle into life at Anfield after an injury-hit start to his Liverpool career

Big questions are being asked of Roberto Firmino (left) as new boy Diogo Jota (right) continues to settle into life at Anfield after an injury-hit start to his Liverpool career

Between them this season Salah and Firmino have created 24 chances for one another, as per Opta, averaging at one clear opportunity crafted per 90 minutes.

Jota, however, despite creating fewer chances overall so far, is actually responsible for 1.1 chances created each Premier League match. Interestingly, these chances are created between Jota and Mane, and Jota and Firmino.

It suggests that in the Portuguese starlet Liverpool have signed another player very much in the mould of Salah. A relentless worker who, despite not initially being seen as an out-and-out striker, has the ability to add more and more goals to his game if paired with selfless and highly intelligent attacking partners.

In this sense, both Mane and particularly Firmino have been seen to offer this kind of foil for Salah for years.

Liverpool became so potent, particularly 18 months ago, when Mane and Firmino started weighing in with plentiful goals while also doing everything in their power to help Salah succeed.

Now, this has fallen off. But it is not for a lack of trying, or general creation. In fact, Liverpool are actually providing a similar kind of output as they did last season.

Take for example the oppressive left-sided link-up of Andy Robertson and Mane. These two players have tortured opponents in years gone by, and yet this season the Scotsman has still managed to put on 16 clear chances for Mane.

That Mane has scored only eight goals in total speaks volume of the former Southampton man, who just one year ago

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