Josh Barker: Liverpool are back to their best but their title charge is about to take a big blow

Mohamed Salah scored his 200th Liverpool goal as Jurgen Klopp’s side produced a late comeback against a 10-man Crystal Palace to move top of the Premier League this past Saturday.

Salah became only the fifth player to reach that landmark for the club, joining Ian Rush, Roger Hunt, Gordon Hodgson and Billy Liddell in the history books.

After reaching such a special milestone, Salah spoke about the similarities between this Liverpool side and the one that won the Premier League in 2020:

“I see the mentality to keep fighting until the end. We keep doing that,” said Salah, who also reached 150 Premier League goals.

“We have a new team now because there’s six or seven [new] players. We need to give them advice. They’re learning a lot and they’re really nice. We can do something special this year.”

And after 16 games of the Premier League season, it is hard to argue with Salah’s assessment.

Liverpool, after a complete collapse last term, are back to playing lovely attacking football, while their defensive frailties are once again largely hidden thanks to a new-look midfield and a more aggressive style of play from last year.

Liverpool are also, as shown vs Crystal Palace, winning games when they are not at their best like a champion does.

Furthermore, they have the joint-best defence in the top-flight and one of the best attacks. All of this points towards Liverpool being right up there come the business end of the Premier League campaign.

However, Liverpool are about to be hit with a major blow that could very well derail their season.

The African Cup of Nations takes place at the beginning of 2024, which means Mohamed Salah could be gone for around a month. The competition kicks off on January 13th with Egypt’s first game a day later, though Salah will obviously have to leave Liverpool before that to link up with his national side.

The final of the AFCON is held on February 11th, meaning Salah could end up being absent for up to six weeks next year.

Losing any player for such a long period is a blow, but Salah is by far and away Liverpool’s most important player. So far this term, the 31-year-old has scored 11 Premier League goals and assisted seven, meaning Salah has played a hand in exactly half of Liverpool’s league goals in 2023/24.

Salah also has the most open-play assists in the Premier League since the start of last season with 16.

What makes Salah’s absence even worse, however, is Liverpool do not have a natural replacement for him. Yes, Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott and Dominik Szoboszlai can all operate on the right wing, but none of that trio come close to matching Salah’s quality, while moving Szoboszlai further forward would weaken Liverpool’s midfield.

Given his age, Liverpool will have to start thinking about replacing Salah in the coming years, but the Reds faithful are about to get an unwanted taste of what their side will be like without their Egyptian king.

Manchester City and Arsenal, on the other hand, have no key players taking part in the AFCON this season, handing them a major advantage over Liverpool in the title race.

Josh Barker

Josh Barker

Middlesbrough fan from the North East of England. @JoshBarker979 on Twitter.