The last play was about to fall into place for Jurgen Klopp in Liverpool.
But it could have been so easily the first, long before the Reds boss took over the seat of Anfield.
And in any case, Klopp needed persuasion.
With Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane having joined Philippe Coutinho with an impressive effect during the two seasons, towards the end of the 2016/17 campaign, Liverpool knew there was a man who could finish the attack with a new look.
Unfortunately, after a big flirtation, that was not going to happen.
“If you take the leap, there is no guarantee that you will play,” said German international Julian Brandt, a longtime goalkeeper for Liverpool.
“I think it’s important that I get a lot of games next season, and that’s a given here at Leverkusen. “
As with Mario Gotze the previous summer, Klopp had to look elsewhere.
And, thanks to the previous work of the Liverpool recruiting team led by sports director Michael Edwards, a name was placed at the top of the wanted list – Mohamed Salah of Roma.
“We have looked at Salah so often, we have seen him so often,” said Klopp. “The screening service was really behind me and wanted to do it even earlier so that no one could intervene!
“We were sure he could help us. Michael Edwards, Dave Fallows and Barry (Hunter), they were really in my ear and were on it “Come on, come on, Mo Salah, it’s the solution! “
“When you have 20 players on the table, different players, it is difficult to make an early decision, but we were all convinced that we could make the decision as soon as possible so that we could really get it. He’s a fantastic person, a nice boy and a very good football player. ”
There were good reasons for Edwards to defend Salah. Almost four years earlier, Liverpool had wanted to take the player, then only 21 years old, on the Swiss side of Basel.
“Liverpool have wanted me for several months,” said the Egyptian. “They opened talks in October 2013.
“The negotiations lasted a long time because Basel rejected several offers. They felt that the transfer fees were not that high. I was waiting for Liverpool because I really like Liverpool. I was looking forward to joining them.
“But then I got a phone call from (Jose) Mourinho and it changed everything. “
Indeed, Liverpool were ready to reach an initial amount of 8 million pounds for the Egyptian international before being wasted by Chelsea, who spent 12 million pounds.
But it didn’t work at Stamford Bridge for Salah, who rebuilt his Serie A career with Fiorentina and, more prominently, Roma.
But the Italians did not want to let go of their precious property too easily. With negotiations spanning several weeks during the summer of 2017, Liverpool continued to evaluate other options such as Douglas Costa of Bayern Munich, Keita Baldo of Lazio and Gelson Martins of Sporting Lisbon.
Finally, an initial amount of £ 36.9 million was agreed, making Salah the most expensive player in Liverpool’s history at the time.
“His record in Italy was exceptional and he has qualities that will improve our team and our team,” said Klopp. “His pace is incredible, he gives us more threat of attack and we are already strong in this area. “
An undefeated preseason, in which Salah scored four in seven outings, indicated that his speed had increased the threat from Liverpool, especially on the counterattack with the pace and power of Mane and the clever movements of Firmino, who changed the number 11 of the team to nine to welcome Salah and fill the void left by the late Christian Benteke, who recovered most of the expenses for Salah when he arrived at Crystal Palace.
Few, however, could have predicted what would happen to Liverpool’s new attacking trio, even though the three of them had scored in their 3-3 Premier League draw at Watford in their first competitive match.
Salah ended August with new strikes against Hoffenheim and Arsenal. Firmino could boast three goals and three assists in the same period, but while Mane also scored three goals, the start of a tough fall came with his red card for a high shoe on goalkeeper Manchester City Ederson, a match that Liverpool lost 5-0.
The Senegalese then suffered from a hamstring problem and a broken finger, which means he has only appeared in three of the Reds’ next 10 games.
Philippe Coutinho, meanwhile, had his own problems. A back problem knocked him out of the first six games of the season, which coincided with him looking for a move to Barcelona that Liverpool refused to entertain.
Upon his return, the Brazilian quickly regained his form, culminating in an exceptional month of December in which he scored seven goals and created four in eight games. He was captain for three of them.
Salah, meanwhile, couldn’t stop scoring – 15 in the Premier League before Christmas, six more in the Champions League – while Firmino found Europe just as profitable.
For Mane, however, the struggles continued. Having been shunted from the right flank to the left to welcome the arrival of Salah, he was out of shape to the point that he was abandoned for the visit of Chelsea with Klopp forced to speak with the player after a difficult derby d ‘Anfield in which he was responsible for a bad absence in a match that Liverpool did not win.
“He said he trusted me and that over time I would play until I was exhausted,” said Mane. “Even so, I told her I wanted to play.
“Klopp said he had to run his team. There was also the fact that Coutinho was about to leave and he didn’t want to tell me right away. ”
The cat, however, was soon out of the bag. Coutinho made his last outing for the Reds in the last game in 2017, a 2-1 home victory over Leicester City in which Salah scored twice, including one assisted by Mane. Barcelona, worth £ 142 million, was his next stop.
It is remarkable to consider that Firmino, Mane, Salah and Coutinho only started seven games together. Barely three were won, although the quartet scored 19 Liverpool goals between them in these matches.
But with Coutinho gone, the remaining triumvirate clicked almost instantly. And in the case of Mane, whether it was due to a slight change in training and approach, or the realization that he now has to take on additional responsibility, the transformation has been remarkable.
Mane scored 13 times in the second half of the season, including more than half in the knockout stages of the Champions League to help the Reds reach the final.
Firmino, whose 54 appearances in this campaign have seen everything but new with him as center forward, finished with 27 goals and 17 assists.
And Salah broke records almost every week, scoring 44 goals – the most in a season by a Liverpool player since Ian Rush in 1984 – and contributing 16 assists. Among many individual honors, he was PFA Player of the Year.
Kiev may have proven a step too far – Salah’s early shoulder injury a contributing factor – but Coutinho’s departure had unintentionally proven the last step. Liverpool now had the most feared front line in Europe.
“The Liverpool attackers are good,” said Pep Guardiola, before the Manchester City Champions League quarter-final elimination against Klopp this season. “These three at the front. They scare me. They are dangerous. “
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With Mane swapping the jersey at number 10, the look was complete. And the trio was no less formidable the following campaign, pushing City to the end in an epic title race and going even better in the Champions League with the victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the final.
Salah was again the top scorer with 27 – thanks to his penalty in Madrid – who started after a hangover after the World Cup with a three-month mid-season period as a center forward in which he scored more than half of his total.
Firmino aligned around the Egyptian but still finished with 16 goals. However, Mane was the most powerful striker at the end of the campaign, scoring 17 times beyond the start of the year, now perfectly in tune with his left-wing role.
So for this season. With their more established positions, each one has been a constant threat, Salah leading the way with 20 goals ahead of Mane over 18. Firmino’s 11 has often been crucial, notably his winner in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup against Flamengo.
All told, since their first lineup, Salah, Firmino and Mane have started exactly 100 games in Liverpool together. Meanwhile, they scored 154 goals.
European champions, world champions and Premier League champions are elected. It was the strike force that would become one of the most famous in Anfield’s history.