I think that the whole team has just started the season awfully and the whole team, as a unit, is displaying numerous problems in various areas of the pitch. Just to name a few of those issues, ur back-line cannot buy us a few clean sheets in times of need and against manageable opposition, and our midfield is basically a gaping hole at times and creates very little for the front-line.
In all of that, you expect a player like Mo to get the brunt of the blame. It's normal, he just signed a new contract and in all his time with us he's set an incredibly high standard for himself. People have come to expect Mo to score in every game and when he doesn't, even if its for a couple of games, eyebrows are raised, understandably so. With that said, I'd argue that with all the problems we've been going through since the season kicked off, he's still our best player and he's performing in an environment where nothing is helping him. And when I say ''nothing'', I quite literally mean it.
What I've noticed so far in regards to our offense problems:
- Mo is visibly playing much wider than he usually does, but is this his decision or something that comes from the manager? I honestly think it could be a mix of both and my logic is simple. He is running himself into the ground every game making numerous runs that are either not seen, not capitalized on or quite simply, the quality of the passing is horrid (go back and watch our games). You can see that particularly when Diaz has the ball. Luis is a winger that naturally plays wide and uses his trickery, agility and explosion with the ball at his feet to create space for himself and cut on the inside to shoot or feed other players. I'd argue that Luis does the first part of this very well yet he can't seem to shoot or feed the players making runs for him. I think I lost count of the number of times I see Mo, the RCM or the RB making a very clever diagonal run while Luis is cutting to the inside after beating his man and Luis completely ignores those runs and either stops to recycle the ball or takes on one to many man. This is exactly the type of stuff Mane saw and he would make the pass, giving us a scoring change or at the very least disrupting the opposition's shape in defence.
- Like I said above, Luis is naturally very wide and what he does with the ball is very predictable. He's not the type of player where you ask yourself if the opposition can guess what he'll do next, but you rather ask yourself if the opposition will manage to stop what we all know is coming next. The bigger problem is not that what he does with the ball, its what he doesn't do without it. He simply does not make even 50% of those runs behind the opposition's backline that Mane used to. The resulting consequence is simple, teams will tilt their whole backline and midfield towards Salah because they can now afford to double and triple mark the only winger, I would even argue the only forward, they know will make direct and difficult to defend runs and they do so with no consequence whatsoever being felt on the opposite flank because they know Luis is more or less static, staying quite wide until he receives the ball. Mane used to ask the same questions Salah asks of the opposition's backline but on the left. This makes it so that you can't afford the extra man from midfield to sit on Salah or the CB staying quite close to his LB to face Salah and the same on the right flank.
- However, the main problem is : we have next to no penetration down the middle. We saw it, the few times we actually managed to break the first and second line of opposition's press we were in on goal and we scored. Think the beautiful pass from Harvey to Mo that leads to the Bobby goal against Newcastle, the Matip pass to Elliott on our first against Fulham, or the TAA ball from the middle of the park to Mo that then leads to our second against Fulham. Go watch those goals again and then watch the other goals we scored this season, but take the Bournemouth game out of the equation because quite frankly, they were too poor to even give any reliable data to work with. What do you notice? With the Bournemouth game out of the picture we have scored a total of 6 goals, 3 of them are the ones mentioned above, good penetrating line breaking passes that lead to space and guess what, direct involvement for Mo. The other 3, individual affairs : the Diaz wonder goal against Palace, Mo's goal against United, and Fabio's late winner against Newcastle. What does that tell us? Quite simply, until we find a way to create from the middle, teams will tilt their whole shape towards Mo and TAA with no consequences having to be paid because the middle of the park is devoid of any penetrative passing that can punish those teams through the spaces they afford us in there.
So what does that tell us? Yes Mo might be off his best form, but we are also not breaking pressing lines with passes that find him and even when he makes those runs and succeeds at peeling off the men guarding him, he is not found with accurate passes and most of the time he isn't even seen by players like Diaz, our LB and our midfielders. Quite simply, if Mo is currently the ''dull'' head of the spear, the spear itself is quite frankly made out of rotten wood. With that in mind, it makes sense to see him reacting to that by staying wider in order to escape the constant 2 or 3 men marking he is under in order to have the ball at his feet a bit longer and hopefully create something for his teammates. I would argue this is going quite well on his side from what I've seen, but it brings us back to a point I mention above which is that Diaz, and to a certain extent Bobby, are not making those diagonal penetrative runs that Mane used to make. I would argue that if Mane was still with us and Mo was playing this wide, Mane would have 3 or 4 goals by now, all assisted or created by Mo. I'm not saying there is no solutions, we have bought a 80m center-forward who happens to be big, quick, agile ,strong, and can jump quite high. This gives us tactical options. We can tweak the way we play and create to take advantage of that which will subsequently release some of the pressure the wingers are under, especially Mo. We can also wait for Thiago to come back and hope he re-injects that needed penetration down the middle. We can also look forward to Arthur settling into the team and hopefully giving us a bit of those line breaking passes we need so much.
ps: sorry for the long post, but I believe it was required in order to give my full point of view on a matter that, I think, is quite frankly more complicated than ''Mo suddenly stopped performing'' especially when the team, as a whole, is given an analytical look.