Jurgen Klopp has lauded his Liverpool side for once again making life "uncomfortable" for their opponents following a 3-1 win at West Ham on Sunday. 

The defending Premier League champions ended a five-match winless run in the top flight by beating Tottenham 3-1 on Thursday and they followed that up with another impressive victory in London.

Mohamed Salah took his Premier League tally against West Ham to nine – his best return against a side in the competition – with a fine double, while Georginio Wijnaldum's late effort ensured all three points against David Moyes' side, who scored a consolation through Craig Dawson.

The win moves the Reds to four points adrift of leaders Manchester City, who have a game in hand, and Klopp is pleased his players are starting to find their form after a tricky period.

"These boys are a really good group," he told Sky Sports. "They're not happy at not being successful, not winning, but they always have the right attitude.

"But they need the right information as well; I said that after the Burnley game [when they lost 1-0], that was my fault.

"Now we have found a way for us to be uncomfortable for other teams. Our last two games were like this."

The result means Liverpool have won more Premier League matches against West Ham (31) then they have against any other side in the competition, while they have lost just one of their past 16 Premier League games in London.

All of the Reds' goals came in the second period, with Klopp attributing their revival to a series of half-time tweaks.

"It was a great game, a very professional game, very controlled against usually a flying side," he added.

"We didn't create enough in the first half, but we controlled the game. We made little adjustments at half-time and it paid off. We scored three unbelievable goals. I'm really happy.

"In the first half we had three midfielders on the other side of the ball so Xherdan Shaqiri had to pass backwards. We wanted Divock Origi more in the centre. We played a double 10 then with Thiago [Alcantara] and Shaqiri."

Liverpool welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to Anfield on Wednesday before Pep Guardiola's City travel to Merseyside on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah conceded he felt the extra responsibility to score for Liverpool against West Ham after starting without Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in the front three.

With Mane ruled out because of a minor injury and Roberto Firmino starting on the bench, there was extra onus on Liverpool's talisman to deliver the goods.

He did so in style, his second-half double putting Liverpool on course for a 3-1 win over the Hammers, moving the defending Premier League champions within four points of leaders Manchester City after playing a game more.

After curling home a 57th-minute opener, Salah then rounded off a sparkling counter-attack following wondrous passes from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Xherdan Shaqiri.

In doing so he became the first player to score 20+ goals in all competitions in four consecutive seasons for Liverpool since Ian Rush did so six times running from 1981-82 to 1986-87.

Salah has now been involved in 29 goals in his 21 Premier League starts without Mane, with his sparkling second goal his first from a fast break this season.

Reflecting the added pressure he felt, Salah's total shots (seven) were his most in the league since Liverpool's 4-3 opening win over Leeds United in September, while his four shots on target represented a season-high for the Egypt forward.

Asked about that weight of expectation, Salah told Sky Sports: "Before the game, I knew they were not going to start, I knew there was extra responsibility on me but not just now but every game, I try to help the team.

"Of course today they both didn't play, it was a big responsibility but I play without them before and we win also."

Since Salah's arrival in June 2017, Liverpool's win percentage in all competitions in games where Mane and Firmino have both started is 67 compared to 58 in games where at least one of that duo is not in the XI, though their goals per game tally (2.2) is equal.

Depending on the severity of Mane's injury, Liverpool may have to cope without him again next Sunday when they host City at Anfield in a huge clash, which comes four days after the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion.

On if it will need relentless wins to beat City and Manchester United to the title, Salah said: "If you want to win the league you have to win every game, but this year City were struggling in beginning.

"Then it was us struggling three or four games ago - you just need to keep winning if you want to win the Premier League."

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

For so long, Real Madrid have been favourites to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Premier League champions Liverpool are believed to be stepping up their pursuit.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL FRONTRUNNERS FOR MBAPPE

Liverpool are ahead of Real Madrid in the race to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe , according to Canal+ show Late Football Club.

Mbappe has been tipped to leave Ligue 1 champions PSG for LaLiga holders Madrid at the end of the season.

But Liverpool are reportedly the frontrunners to prise the France World Cup winner to Anfield amid doubts over Mohamed Salah 's future.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Madrid are preparing for the departure of Sergio Ramos as their star captain nears an exit. The soon-to-be free agent has been linked with the likes of PSG , Juventus , Manchester United and Manchester City .

- Will Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Inter's Alexis Sanchez swap clubs? Sky Sport Italia reports an exchange deal could be set to collapse. City reportedly turned down a chance to re-sign Dzeko, who has a fractured relationship with Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca.

Milan are continuing to target Palmeiras and Uruguayan defender Matias Vina , says Calciomercato.

- Cadena Cope reports PSG want to sign Barcelona defender Emerson , who is on loan at Real Betis.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk says United are interested in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano , but Bayern Munich lead the race to secure his services at season's end. Upamecano has also been linked to the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool .

- Falk also confirmed that Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate has a release clause in excess of €40million (£35m) amid interest from United , Liverpool and Tottenham .

United are eyeing Barca's Ousmane Dembele if Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho does not arrive ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, according to Falk.

No one at Liverpool will ever rush to take comfort from any defeat to Manchester United.

But, amid the rubble of Sunday's 3-2 loss at Old Trafford in the fourth round of the FA Cup, there were signs the Premier League's most-celebrated frontline of recent times were clicking back into gear.

Mohamed Salah scored both Liverpool goals and will hope to end a top-flight drought stretching back to December's 7-0 shellacking of Crystal Palace when Tottenham host the defending champions on Thursday.

Perhaps more significantly, each of Salah's strikes were laid on by Roberto Firmino.

Aside from trying to work out who on earth will play at centre-back on any given week, it feels like Jurgen Klopp has spent more time on public defences of the Brazil centre-forward than anything else this season.

The Reds boss claimed he would be "embarrassed" to list all of Firmino's qualities and said "I can't help these people, sorry" when asked to explain the player's worth to the doubters.

Later in November he labelled Firmino "a complete footballer", not to mention a pretty impressive musician, who "plays something like 12 instruments in our orchestra".

However, since the symphonic grandeur of their display at Palace, Liverpool have not been able to move for bum notes in front of goal.

Firmino has not found the net in any competitive game since that trip to Selhurst Park, and former Anfield favourite Jamie Carragher singled him out after the 0-0 top-flight draw against United earlier this month.

"I'm still confident Sadio Mane and Salah will start scoring goals again," he said on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football. "I must say I am worried for Firmino."

Again, Klopp went in to bat for the former Hoffenheim man. But is it fair for the 29-year-old to repeatedly receive such scrutiny? Conversely, is Klopp motivated by anything more than loyalty to a diligent servant by this point?

Bobby's strike rate not dazzling

Firmino's five Premier League goals this season have come from 46 shots with an expected goals (xG) value of 6.9. He is yet to score in the Champions League.

Under-performing his xG is not exactly new territory for him. When widely hailed as a key member of a dominant title-winning team last season, his nine league goals from 99 shots came in well below an xG of 14.

When Spurs and Liverpool met at Anfield last month, Firmino netted a 90th-minute winner to snatch a 2-1 victory. These are the sort of "heavy goals" that will endear a player to a manager.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, when the Salah-Mane-Firmino trident first came together, 16 of Firmino's 41 Premier League goals have been winners, or 39 per cent.

Mane (56) and Salah (86) have scored more often and netted more winners (17 and 26 respectively) but their percentage of decisive goals is slightly lower at 30.

Salah heads into Thursday's game as the Premier League's top scorer with 13 goals – one ahead of Spurs duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min on 12 apiece – and 19 in all competitions.

Given goalscoring has never been hailed as Firmino's forte, perhaps it is Mane's drop off inside the penalty area that should be a greater cause for concern.

The Senegal international's six Premier League goals have arrived from 52 attempts with an xG value of 7.4. Amid a career-best run of form on the way to the title, Mane's 18 top-flight goals comfortably outstripped an xG of 13.7.

Diogo Jota's perceived importance to Liverpool has skyrocketed during his injury absence and the former Wolves man's nine goals across the Premier League and Champions League from an xG of 4.9 give him a solid argument to be picked ahead of either Mane or Firmino when fitness allows.

Old Trafford sea change?

As mentioned above, Firmino showcased a key facet of his game at the weekend by laying on both Salah strikes and creating four chances overall – his most in a game this season.

He now has five assists in all competitions this term, set against four for Salah and three from Mane.

However, he has created notably fewer chances – 28 compared to Salah's 41 and Mane's 40.

Indeed, using Opta's expected assists (xA) metric, we can see that in the Premier League and Champions League combined, Firmino has created a lower quality of chances cumulatively.

The trio have three open play assists apiece in those competitions, although Salah's open play xA is four, with Mane's 2.9 and Firmino's 2.3.

Heavy metal football for the multi-instrumentalists 

Outside of their goal involvements, the collective work rate of the Liverpool front three, their willingness to do the dirty work and set the tone for Klopp's gegenpressing machine has become a trademark.

Firmino is particularly celebrated in this regard. Per 90 minutes, his tackles (1.24 > 1.06), interceptions (0.3 > 0.24) and instances of winning possession in the final third (1.08 > 0.82) are all down on last season. With 1.52 tackles per 90 and 0.4 interceptions, he is being outperformed by Mane in these aspects.

However, in the context of a condensed Premier League schedule placing extra strain on players, this is not an especially alarming drop.

Liverpool's high turnovers per game are down to 8.9 from 10.7 last season, meaning they have swapped positions with Manchester City at the top of those rankings.

They remain second to City in terms of shot-ending high turnovers. Pep Guardiola's team have managed to maintain their level in this regard, averaging 2.2 high turnovers per game compared to 2.1 in 2019-20. Liverpool's per 90 drop is from 1.7 to 1.3.

Regarding pressed sequences per game, Klopp's men are holding steady as the best team in the league – 17.5 compared to 18.1 from the season gone.

They are also allowing slightly fewer passes per defensive action (PPDA) in the Premier League, with 10.1 in 2020-21 compared to 10.3. On this metric, possibly due to poor early-season form and some atypically cautious performances that followed, City have dropped from 10.1 to 11.4.

Creating and hustling

Of course, the Liverpool front three's work off the ball would not be so notable without them doing the business once it's at their feet.

Looking a little deeper than goals and assists data, Salah and Mane ranked in the Premier League's top 10 when it comes to involvement in open play sequences ending in a shot before the start of this midweek round.

Firmino came in 11th with 89 involvements, behind Mane on 100 (sixth) and Salah with 102 (fifth). Of those sequences to yield goals, Salah has featured in 12, compared to nine and six for Mane and Firmino respectively.

The Brazilian has suffered from some poor finishing at the end of his involvements. The cumulative xG for the sequences he played a part in is 12.3, slightly better than Mane (11.6) and Salah (10.8).

An Opta metric where Firmino certainly lives up to his reputation is the seven times he has started a period of possession that ended in a shot this term. That puts him joint seventh in the Premier League overall as the highest ranked striker in a category where Rodri, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and N'Golo Kante are among the high flyers – defensive midfielders whose primary role is winning the ball back to get their teams on the front foot.

The pain of Kane - the perfect hybrid

The temptation before Thursday might be to point towards Kane as the centre-forward Liverpool would love Firmino to be. The England captain's incredible alliance with Son demonstrates being a scorer or a provider is not an either/or equation.

Kane has 12 Premier League goals and has laid on 11 more. Firmino's best assist tally over the course of an entire top-flight season was eight en route to glory last time around.

Unflattering comparisons are easy to reach for but, as the numbers above demonstrate, Firmino and Liverpool's front three as a collective have not fallen too dramatically from the performance levels that made them the most feared attack in Europe.

Virgil van Dijk's injury, influential midfielders being deployed in defence in his absence and the knock-on in terms of both midfield balance and the effectiveness of attacking full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson look like more plausible explanations for Liverpool's malaise.

Even so, a fifth goal against Tottenham and a third consecutive winner in this fixture would be the best way to stop Klopp making another weary argument in Firmino's favour.

On a day when Donny van de Beek hoped to show why he deserves more minutes for Manchester United, up stepped Bruno Fernandes to show why that simply isn't happening.

The eye-catching selection of Van de Beek ahead of Fernandes for this FA Cup clash of giants at Old Trafford was all about "rotation", according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's manager clearly felt his team could combat a faltering Liverpool team without their star man, albeit leaving him on the bench in case of emergency.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into," Solskjaer told the BBC.

Van de Beek has not started a Premier League game since he was hauled off with United trailing at half-time at West Ham in early December, and he might not be starting any soon either given how this game transpired.

A 66th-minute switch of the Portuguese for the underwhelming Van de Beek proved pivotal, and the delightful free-kick from Fernandes that settled an absorbing game 3-2 in United's favour was one that had been conceived on Saturday.

"I think he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks, so I was quite confident that he was going to hit the target," Solskjaer said.

Solskjaer, the erstwhile supersub, knew the calibre of replacement that was up his sleeve, and the rotation worked in a roundabout way. Are we looking at more proof that United's once-maligned Norwegian boss is actually a tactical master?

Liverpool's season, meanwhile, takes another negative turn.

Donny fluffs his big chance

With a mere 18 passes and 23 touches, Van de Beek was peripheral in a midfield where Paul Pogba shone and Scott McTominay fought for every ball.

The former Ajax man had a glorious early chance to stamp his mark on the game when he burst into space on the right and looked sure to dart towards the penalty area, as Edinson Cavani waited for a pass in the centre.

But no. Van de Beek paused and decided to go backwards, and the chance was gone.

This game was a world away from the Anfield snore draw seven days previously in the Premier League, yet Van de Beek largely let it pass him by.

By the time Fernandes cracked his sublime winner into the right corner, Van de Beek must have been wondering when such an opportunity will arise again.

Salah shows he must start

Like Fernandes, Salah has seen his form and contribution questioned in recent weeks, and just as United's match-winner dispelled such criticism, so did Liverpool's main man.

After all the talk about front threes, and which of these sides had the most deadly attacking trio, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp went with a two-man strikeforce, Salah and Roberto Firmino linking up and Sadio Mane on the bench.

Both Salah and Firmino had been substitutes on Thursday for the defeat to Burnley, but they were a combination that United struggled to contain at times here.

Salah struck twice, the first a sublime chip, and Firmino set up both. The Brazilian has now assisted Salah for 18 goals during their time together at Liverpool, the most any player has set up another during Klopp's reign.

Unlike Firmino and Mane, Salah has exceeded his expected goals (xG) in the Premier League this season, with eight non-penalty goals from an xG of 5.3, and if Liverpool are to resurrect their season, the bench is surely no place for the Egyptian.

Glorious Greenwood

Mason Greenwood has not scored in the Premier League since that West Ham game, when he helped United turn their half-time deficit around and earn a 3-1 victory.

Here he looked lively from the early stages, albeit with one too many lollipops and insufficient tasty final product until he cancelled out Salah's opener.

The way the 19-year-old ended an 10-game barren spell spoke volumes of his belief, with Marcus Rashford's sweeping pass over the Liverpool defence finding his wing twin on the right and allowing Greenwood to thump a low shot past Alisson.

With Rashford also on target, this was quite a day to savour for the hosts.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Bruno Fernandes out of his starting line-up for Sunday's FA Cup clash with Liverpool.

Fernandes, who has been United's shining light since arriving from Sporting CP almost 12 months ago, was only a substitute for the fourth-round game.

This season he has scored 15 goals and supplied nine assists in 28 games across all competitions from his advanced midfield role, but there have been questions asked about his form in recent weeks.

He has just one goal and no assists in four Premier League appearances since the turn of the year.

Into the United team went former Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek as Solskjaer decided the game presented a chance to rotate his squad, making five changes to the side that won 2-1 at Fulham on Wednesday.

Solskjaer explained why Fernandes did not start, saying on BBC One: "It's rotation in the squad.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into.

"He's done nothing wrong when he's been around the club so I'm looking forward to seeing him in there."

Premier League leaders United also brought in goalkeeper Dean Henderson, centre-back Victor Lindelof, midfielder Scott McTominay and forward Marcus Rashford, as David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Fred and Anthony Martial dropped out.

Liverpool also showed five changes as Jurgen Klopp looked for a response to Thursday's shock 1-0 home defeat to Burnley, which ended a 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield in the Premier League.

Teenage centre-back Rhys Williams came in for the absent Joel Matip, while James Milner and Curtis Jones were selected as Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropped to the bench.

Sadio Mane and Divock Origi were also substitutes as Klopp gave starts to Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, with the Old Trafford clash coming a week on from these two sides battling out a dreary goalless draw at Anfield in the league.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Jurgen Klopp insisted talk about Liverpool star Mohamed Salah's contract would not be a distraction.

Salah has a deal at Anfield until 2023, but his future has become a talking point after he refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with AS last month.

While Liverpool have struggled for consistency and sit fourth in the Premier League, Salah has netted 13 times to be the top goalscorer in the competition.

Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup clash against Manchester United, Klopp said he had no doubt about Salah's focus despite talk about his future.

"It's not that [players] go out and [volunteer] to talk about the things we think are important. It's pretty rare that that happens," the Liverpool manager told reporters.

"We get asked questions and then we answer and that's then the story and it always sounds like we started the conversation.

"But in Mo's case it's not like that, so no, I don't think it will distract the season."

While Salah is the top goalscorer in the Premier League with 13, five of those have come from the penalty spot.

But his big chance conversion (64.3 per cent) is the highest it has been since he joined Liverpool from Roma in 2017.

However, his dribbles success rate (39) is the lowest since he arrived at Anfield.

Liverpool have won just one of their past six games ahead of their trip to Old Trafford to face rivals United.

After thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 on December 19, Liverpool were six points clear at the Premier League summit. 

Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were all on target in the clinical rout at Selhurst Park, after which Jurgen Klopp said: "It was really difficult to play against us."

The reigning champions had seemingly found top gear again. 

Fast forward to January 21 and, following a stunning 1-0 loss to Burnley at Anfield, Liverpool were left to wonder just where it had all gone so badly wrong.  

For a fourth successive outing in the league they had failed to score, while the shock result sees them stuck in fourth position in the table, six points behind leaders Manchester United. 

Never mind moving through the gears: the wheels have well and truly come off. 

BARNES HARMS AILING CHAMPIONS

Ashley Barnes' penalty condemned the Reds to a first home defeat in the league since April 23, 2017. It had been three years and 273 days since former Liverpool player Christian Benteke struck twice for Palace in a 2-1 triumph. 

The run of 68 games unbeaten was the second longest in English top-flight history. During the streak, there were 55 wins, 176 goals scored and 36 clean sheets. A total of 43 players were used, too.

Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum, Firmino and Divock Origi were also in the starting XI that were beaten by Palace, managed by Sam Allardyce, nearly four years ago, while Trent Alexander-Arnold came on as a late substitute.


GOAL-SHY LIVERPOOL MISS CAPTAIN

Since Mane's early strike in the 1-1 draw against West Brom on December 27, Liverpool have registered 87 shots in the Premier League without managing to find the net. Eighty. Seven. Shots.

It was not for a lack of trying against Burnley, admittedly. They had 27 total attempts, their most in a single league match without scoring since April 2013 versus Reading (28).  

The absence of Jordan Henderson did not help. Even prior to kick-off, Liverpool had lost more of their 11 Premier League games without their captain (3) than they had in 45 games with him (2) since the start of last season.

KLOPP STREAK CAUSES CONCERN

This is not yet uncharted territory for Klopp at Liverpool; he previously went five league games without a win between January and February in 2017. 

That barren run four years ago included fixtures against Sunderland and Hull City – clubs now in the third tier of English football – and a home defeat to current Championship side Swansea City, who were celebrating at Anfield thanks to goals from Fernando Llorente (two) and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

However, Klopp has never previously gone four without a goal during his Reds tenure. The previous time that happened in his coaching career was while in charge of Mainz, who suffered a drought in the Bundesliga late in 2006.


POPE SAVES ALL AS REDS PAY THE PENALTY

Nick Pope excelled when Burnley ended Liverpool's 100 per cent home record in their title-winning campaign – and the goalkeeper was once again in outstanding form on Merseyside.

The England international made six saves to keep a clean sheet, having produced eight in his side's 1-1 draw in July at the same ground. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, no keeper has made more saves against a single opponent in the Premier League than Pope against Liverpool (19).

Barnes' penalty was the second spot-kick Liverpool have conceded at home this season too – they had only given up two penalty goals at Anfield under Klopp before 2020-21.

There is plenty for the German to ponder, then. While retaining the trophy is far from out of reach, what appeared to be a temporary blip is in danger of turning into a full-blown crisis.

Liverpool have been handed a boost by the return of Joel Matip for their meeting with Burnley, but Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino must settle for a place on the bench.

A run of four Premier League games without a win has seen the Reds drop down to fourth, six points behind leaders Manchester United, ahead of Thursday's clash at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp's side have scored just once in that run and have not managed a goal in any of their last three outings.

Their talisman Salah has summed up their struggles, with the Egypt star having failed to score in any of his last four league appearances – his current drought lasting 365 minutes.

Only once has Salah gone longer without a goal for Liverpool and the 28-year-old has been rotated out by Klopp, alongside fellow forward Firmino.

Since Salah joined Liverpool in 2017, they have won four of their five Premier League games when both he and Firmino have been absent from the starting XI, including two wins over Burnley.

Sadio Mane is the only member of Liverpool's first-choice front three to start, with Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri named alongside the Senegal forward.

Along with Firmino, Mane has netted four times in his last four league appearances against Burnley.

Further back, Jordan Henderson misses out through what Liverpool described as a "minor fitness issue", with Georginio Wijnaldum named as captain.

Under Klopp, Liverpool's league win rate without Henderson featuring is 56 per cent, down from 66 when the England international plays.

The main positive for the Reds comes at the back, with Matip – who went off injured in a 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 27 – joining Fabinho in the centre of defence.

Matip and Fabinho will be up against Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, who has only played more games (seven) and minutes (435) against Southampton without scoring in the Premier League than he has against Liverpool (six games, 400 minutes).

Indeed, Burnley have failed to score in six of their last seven away Premier League fixtures, with their only goal in this run an own goal from Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the Clarets have lost their last two matches.

Mohamed Salah insisted he wanted to stay at Liverpool as long as possible, but said his future was in the club's hands.

Salah sparked speculation over his future when he refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona during an interview with AS last month.

The star forward is contracted at Liverpool until 2023, but the Egypt international continues to be linked with a move.

Salah, who has scored 17 goals in 26 games in all competitions this season, said he wanted to remain at Anfield.

"I do not know. If you ask, I say I want to stay here as long as I can, but as I have said before, it is in the hands of the club," he told Norwegian channel TV2. 

"I will always give 100 per cent to the last minute I am in this club and I want to win as many trophies as I can. 

"And I want to give 100 per cent to the people, who show me love all the time."

Winless in four Premier League games, Liverpool are fourth in the table ahead of hosting Burnley on Thursday.

Mohamed Salah believes faltering Liverpool "need to win" against Manchester United because of the high stakes involved in Sunday's showdown.

Premier League top-scorer Salah expects the always hotly contested north-west battle to have an extra edge because both are chasing the title this season.

The Egyptian striker, who has 13 league goals this season, has scored only once in his five previous Premier League encounters with United.

He has also failed to hit the net in Liverpool's last three league games this term, during which time they have mustered just one goal and two points.

As a result of Liverpool's slump, United have bolted three points ahead of Jurgen Klopp's Reds at the top of the table, with nine wins from their last 11 league games sending Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men soaring.

"The game is really big at the moment, especially because now they are first and we are second," Salah told Norwegian broadcaster TV 2.

"They are playing well this season as well. It's a good game but at the end of the day we need to win that game, I think that's the most important thing.

"I always say it's just one game, it's only one game. But because this one, if they win they are going to be six points [ahead of Liverpool] and if we win we're going to be the same, it's a little bit special this game."

The prospect of sliding six points behind their rivals from along the East Lancs Road is one that is hard to stomach for Liverpool.

When they beat United 2-0 last January, it took Liverpool 30 points clear of their great rivals, the title already in sight.

The narrative is distinctly different this season, and what is clear is that Liverpool's finishing must sharpen up.

In the 1-0 defeat at Southampton on January 4 - their last league outing - Liverpool had 56 touches in the opposition box, more than they have managed in any other Premier League game this season.

However, they had just one shot on target and 11 that missed.

In the same game, they had 79 ball recoveries, matching their season-high total which came against Leeds United on the opening weekend of their campaign. Liverpool put 61 passes or crosses into the Saints box - more than they have against any other side this term.

There is plenty that Liverpool are still doing right, but they are not finishing off sequences as they did during last season's championship-winning effort.

Salah knows many will be looking to him to put right the wrongs of recent games.

"When I'm scoring goals and can help the team, that makes me happier," he said. "When I don't score and the team doesn't win, that's a nightmare!"

Fabinho insisted Mohamed Salah was "very happy" at Liverpool amid speculation over the star forward's future.

Salah sparked talk about his future after refusing to rule out a move to LaLiga champions Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with Diario AS last month.

Fabinho said the speculation about Salah was normal, the Brazil international adding the forward was happy at Anfield.

"Big players will always have their names involved in rumours. Salah plays for Liverpool, one of the biggest teams in the world. I think it's normal to see his name linked to other teams, especially from different leagues," he told ESPN Brasil on Tuesday.

"Anyway, I see him very happy here and pleased with his performances this season. He's very demanding with himself, he wants to be the best, he wants to help the team and works hard for it.

"It's always been the case and it hasn't changed at all. He keeps scoring goals, which everyone is used to seeing. In the changing room he's always talking to everyone and making jokes.

"I don't see anything affecting him. Overall, I am not following the news so I'm not sure about any rumours. As I said, top quality players will always be linked to big clubs."

Premier League holders Liverpool have struggled for consistency so far this season and Manchester United's win over Burnley on Tuesday sent the Red Devils three points clear of their rivals.

But Fabinho said Jurgen Klopp's side, who host United on Sunday, were concentrating on themselves.

"They are definitely confident and enjoying a good momentum in the league. They are winning some games that perhaps they weren't last season, such as against Wolves," he said.

"However, our focus isn't exclusively on Manchester United. The main thing is trying to play our football and winning games."

Around the globe, nations are welcoming in 2021, bidding goodbye to what has been a tumultuous year.

Much has changed in 2020, and while the coronavirus pandemic continues, football has at least returned, albeit in a vastly different way to what came before.

The Premier League was suspended for three months between March and June, but following a successful Project Restart, 2020-21 is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable campaigns in recent history.

With 2020 coming to an end, and 2021 promising signs of improvement, we use Opta data to review the Premier League year.

PASS MASTERS CITY CONFINE DEFENSIVE CONCERNS TO HISTORY?

Pep Guardiola's swashbuckling Manchester City side of 2017 to 2019 may well be a thing of the past, but so, it seems, are defensive lapses.

While often rampant in attack, City could be got at the back, as Liverpool usually managed to expose in meetings between the two title challengers.

Perhaps with the league all but sewn up in Liverpool's favour by early 2020, however, Guardiola seems to have found the tonic to City's issues in defence.

City have kept 17 clean sheets in 2020, three more than any other side. Seven of those have come this season, while the resurgence of John Stones in recent weeks has been a major success story.

Stones has made six league appearances – all of them starts – and has helped City keep five clean sheets, while forming a fine partnership with Ruben Dias, meaning Aymeric Laporte has found himself out of the side.

City's improved defence has come at something of a cost, with their goal tally falling to 69, six behind Liverpool, who netted 75 times across 2020, and a drop of 26 from their total of 95 in 2019.

However, Guardiola's team still control possession as much as they ever did, making 20,237 successful passes in 2020.

Indeed, holding midfielder Rodri completed the most passes of any player in the Premier League, while his pass completion rate of 92.4 per cent was also the highest of any midfielder.

DYNAMIC PLAYMAKERS TOP THE CHARTS

While James Rodriguez has come into the Premier League and made a strong impact at Everton, creating 25 chances – including three assists – and scoring three times in 10 appearances for Carlo Ancelotti's side, it is the playmakers with more dynamism and tenacity who have impressed the most through 2020.

Kevin De Bruyne – last season's PFA Premier League Player of the Year – was the chief creator.

He was the only player to create more than 100 chances in the Premier League in 2020, while he also led all players in chances created from open play (83). De Bruyne's tally of 15 assists was also more than twice as many as any of his City team-mates.

Another standout is Bruno Fernandes, who has seemingly transformed Manchester United's fortunes since joining in January.

Fernandes was involved in 32 Premier League goals in 29 games in 2020 (18 goals, 14 assists). The 26-year-old is one of two players to have been involved in 30 or more Premier League strikes in a calendar year, after Luis Suarez in 2013.

Topping the chances created charts for this campaign, however, is Jack Grealish. Villa's captain crafted 93 opportunities in total through the year, second only to De Bruyne, and 51 of those have come from 14 appearances this term – an average of 3.64 per game.

Grealish's 10 big chances created is level with Fernandes, while only De Bruyne (11) has made more.

The key attribute which stands Grealish out, however, is his ability to carry the ball. Having amassed 8,634.99 metres, he leads the way in the league, ahead of Harry Maguire (7,462.14m), Adama Traore (6,912.35m) and Andrew Robertson (6,882.03m).

De Bruyne and Fernandes are no strangers to picking up the ball and powering forward, though their chance creation relies more on precise crossing and slick passing.

RUN, FOREST, RUN! THE PREMIER LEAGUE'S MARATHON MEN

It is no surprise to see that Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool top the distance-covered metrics for the year. In total, the Reds ran 3,854.8 metres, 20.1 more than second-placed Sheffield United, albeit Chris Wilder's men will not get much-needed points just because they run more than the opposition.

West Ham (3820.2m), Brighton and Hove Albion (3804.1m) and Chelsea (3722.4m) complete the top five, with Southampton something of a surprise omission, as Ralph Hasenhuttl's side are renowned for their pressing system.

However, Saints captain James Ward-Prowse does lead the way for distance covered, tallying up just under 396km over the course of 3,060 minutes (the equivalent of nine-and-a-half marathons).

As well as being a tireless worker, Ward-Prowse is a set-piece specialist, scoring four free-kick goals.

Indeed, those strikes contributed to Southampton's league-leading tally of 15 goals from outside of the area, with Danny Ings netting five long-range efforts and Stuart Armstrong adding four.

While Grealish has carried the ball further than any other player, Wolves' Traore clocked up the most dribbles, amassing 142 – 46 more than anybody else.

In January, Traore completed 14 dribbles in a game against Watford – the most by a player in a Premier League game since 2003-04, when Opta began recording.

 

BRUNO AND VARDY'S PENALTY PARTY

A total of 112 penalties were awarded in 2020 – 13 of these went to Leicester City, while 10 went the way of United, Chelsea and City respectively.

Fernandes converted eight times from the spot, while Leicester's Jamie Vardy scored seven, one ahead of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah.

West Brom are the only team to have not been awarded a Premier League spot-kick, with Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley – much to Sean Dyche's chagrin – winning two each.

While Leicester won the most fouls inside the area, it was Grealish who was felled the most in general, averaging at least one foul in all 32 of his appearances.

 

SUPER STRIKERS

Rounding off our review are the Premier League's leading marksmen. Salah (23) and Fernandes (18) headline the scoring charts.

Salah's 23 strikes came from 33 appearances, while Fernandes made four fewer, though more of his goals did come from penalties.

The evergreen Vardy, with 17 goals, is next on the list, tied with Tottenham star Son Heung-min, who was involved in 18 open play sequences ending in goals, more than any other player.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has enjoyed a brilliant run since Ancelotti took charge of Everton, scoring 16 times in 2020 – with 11 coming this season.

Calvert-Lewin had 93 attempts in total, which ranks second in the league, though it is 31 fewer than Salah managed, and his strikes, along with telling contributions from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and the creative forces of Robertson (12 assists) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (seven assists), helped Liverpool to their first-ever Premier League title.

Harry Kane's seemingly telepathic partnership with Son has proved fruitful for Spurs, and the England skipper scored 16 times across the year from 25 appearances, recording 10 assists.

Liverpool and Newcastle United produce goals.

Across 50 prior Premier League encounters ahead of Wednesday's meeting at St James' Park, the ball had found the net 159 times.

Indeed, in Premier League history, only four fixtures – Arsenal v Liverpool (166), Liverpool v Tottenham (162), Arsenal v Everton (162) and Arsenal v Tottenham (161) – have provided more goals.

With Liverpool – who claimed their biggest ever top-flight away win in their previous game on the road, thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 – aiming to respond to a Sam Allardyce special at Anfield, and Newcastle having failed to keep a clean sheet in their past 11 home league matches, the stage seemed set for another goal-fest.

Yet on a snowy night on Tyneside, the champions were held for a second successive game, as Newcastle and Liverpool played out a goalless draw for the first time since February 1974.
 

FESTIVE WOE FOR MO

Mohamed Salah scored twice in Liverpool's rout of Palace, but the league's leading scorer has failed to carry that form into the subsequent two fixtures.

Salah – who did not get any of his three attempts on target against West Brom on Sunday – had been involved in nine goals in his past six away Premier League appearances heading into this trip.

The Egyptian had also netted in each of his previous four starts against Newcastle, but Salah was shorn of his shooting boots on Wednesday.

Having seen Karl Darlow brilliantly save a close-range attempt in the 34th minute, Salah looked all set to break the deadlock after the hour, only to drill wide when one-on-one again. It was his second, and last, attempt.

DARLOW STAKES HIS CLAIM DESPITE DUBRAVKA'S RETURN

Liverpool were denied by a fantastic stoppage-time save from Sam Johnstone last time out, and they found a goalkeeper in similarly fine form this time.

Darlow had four saves to make in total, but three were of the highest quality.

His stop from Salah in the first half showed outstanding reflexes, though it was arguably bettered in the 88th minute, with the former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper somehow keeping out Roberto Firmino's header.

Wedged between those stops was another Firmino header he palmed clear, although Darlow was grateful to have Fabian Schar on hand to clear as he and Sadio Mane scrapped for the ball in the second half.

With the returning Martin Dubravka watching on from the bench, there was another nervy moment for Darlow when he flapped at a corner, yet Firmino was unable to make him pay.

WILSON PUTS IN THE WORK, BUT ALISSON HARDLY TESTED

At the other end of the pitch for Newcastle, Callum Wilson worked tirelessly to run Liverpool's line – after all, the Reds have conceded 20 Premier League goals in 16 matches this season.

Chasing his 50th Premier League goal, Wilson had two attempts – neither on target – and created one chance. He covered 10.28 kilometres and made 22 sprints, the most in the Newcastle team.

Newcastle's problem was a lack of support for their frontman, though Ciaran Clark did send a header too close to Alisson in closing stages.

In total, Steve Bruce's team had just three attempts fewer than Liverpool (11), the visitors limited to only four shots on target, and Newcastle are now unbeaten in their past five home Premier League games against reigning champions.

THAT'S A WRAP...

Though they bossed the possession (73.2 per cent), Liverpool were once again held by a side who sat deep and looked to play on the break.

Their frustration was evidenced late on when Andrew Robertson inexplicably lashed out at Federico Fernandez for clearing a loose ball.

Jurgen Klopp became even more animated when the board was raised to signal four minutes of added time – ultimately, it felt like a night on which Liverpool could have played on for another 90 minutes and not scored.

Against the five teams Liverpool have played this season that resided in the bottom six prior to Wednesday's match, the Reds have now taken just seven points of the 15 on offer.

While 2020 has been difficult, and unprecedented, it has been a superb year for Liverpool, who clinched their first Premier League title and currently sit top of the table heading into 2021, though only by three points.

However, two draws on the bounce to teams either in the bottom half will leave something of a sour taste for the Reds, who had previously won their final league game of the calendar year six times on the spin.

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