Liverpool have completed the £50m signing of Porto winger Luis Diaz and with it beckons the next chapter for the Reds’ famous front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
While Virgil van Dijk and Alisson were the final pieces of the jigsaw, Salah, Mane and Firmino have symbolised Liverpool’s success in recent years.
That attacking trident was the first area of the pitch that Jurgen Klopp properly nailed, having inherited Firmino from predecessor Brendan Rodgers and being presented with Mane and Salah by the club’s esteemed recruitment department in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The trio developed an incredible understanding, each becoming world class in their own right but somehow also exceeding the sum of their constituent parts as a collective.
In just three seasons from Salah’s arrival in 2017 to winning the Premier League title in 2020, they scored 217 goals between them in all competitions – they plundered 91 in 2017/18 alone.
However, Liverpool have been aware for a while that they have to consider a future beyond Salah, Mane and Firmino or risk falling away in the long-term. The very best managers and sporting directors replace and replenish before it is too late and it is already happening at Anfield.
The ball started rolling with the arrival of Diogo Jota from Wolves in the summer of 2020. Takumi Minamino was bought the previous January, yet at just £7m he wasn’t in the same league and selling him on for a profit in the near future will still render his purchase a success.
Jota was proven as a Premier League and Europa League player at Wolves but was young enough – 23 when he arrived – that he could still develop and improve long-term. In 18 months at Anfield, that has happened and, now clear of injuries this season, he has already outscored his 2020/21 tally.
At the same time, Firmino has been struggling with injuries and appears to now be past his peak. The Brazilian has been a fantastic servant to Liverpool and a crucial part of the club’s recent success, but the likelihood of him ever reclaiming his place as a regular starter is slim.
In moving for Diaz, a goal-scoring left winger, attention turns to securing a long-term replacement for Mane, who is also no longer operating at his absolute best. The Senegal star had only scored once in his last eight Premier League appearances prior to the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations and experienced two goal droughts by his previous standards last season.
In time, Diaz, who is 25 and not the finished product but heading in that direction, will come to replace Mane as a regular starter in the same way that Jota has already effectively taken Firmino’s place. What’s more, it will be interesting to see how Liverpool then approach the situation in the coming months, with Mane due to be out of contract in 2023.
He will be 29 in April, which makes a new long-term deal a point of debate, but is perhaps still of an age where Liverpool could command a handsome fee if they were willing to sell this summer. A lot of that thought process will obviously be shaped by how Diaz fares in his first few months and whether club staff have sufficient faith that he will reach and surpass Mane at his current level.
Salah is the only member of the original trio that is continuing to operate at a consistently world-class level. On current form, the Egyptian is perhaps the best player in the world and will again be among the contenders when the next Ballon d’Or is handed out at the end of 2022.
He is only two months younger than Mane and on a contract of the same length. But given that he has also shown no signs of needing replacing any time soon, his situation is also set to give Liverpool executives the biggest headache as they weigh up whether the trade-off to keep him long-term into the final chapter of his career is worth it from a financial perspective.
Unlike his colleagues, Salah is not slowing down with age. His physical fitness is remarkable and he is on course to score 30 goals in all competitions for the second season in a row and the third time in five years as a Liverpool player. If anything, his individual output is getting bigger to make up for the others whose numbers have understandably started to drop.
What seems likely is that come the start of next season, Salah will have two new regular and much younger partners. Then, the question for Liverpool is what they do next.