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 By Steven Kelly

Salah, Mane, Firmino must shake off World Cup troubles back at Liverpool

Liverpool's three-man forward line was excellent last season, powering the team to fourth in the league and a Champions League final.

Mohamad Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino haven't been able to repeat that form in the World Cup. Two are already on the way home while the third isn't getting much game-time with Brazil.

This may please Liverpool supporters. After all the less effort expended in the summer the more their heroes will be rested and prepared for next season, surely?

Perhaps, but the game is also about confidence. The professionals feel differently about these things. It may take quite a few Jurgen Klopp hugs to get them back into the frame of mind which saw them collectively score 91 goals in club colours.

Salah's situation was understandable. He didn't look completely fit during the games he played for Egypt, looking especially tentative during his two goal "celebrations".

After the season he's had, the reaction to his mere presence was incredible. During the clash with Uruguay, TV cameras were more interested in the tiny bearded figure on the bench than anyone on the pitch, Luis Suarez included.

That would normally only happen to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, a startling indicator for how far Salah has come and how much will be expected of him in the immediate future.

It's debatable whether a fit Salah could have pulled a team like Egypt into the knockout stage anyway, but it would certainly have been thought possible.

A dose of reality might be exactly what the doctor ordered for Liverpool's superstar. It was a miracle he'd scored so many goals in the first place; expecting lightening to strike twice might pile far too much pressure on him.

Mane's Senegal made a better effort at extending their tournament but were incredibly unlucky to bow out on their disciplinary record rather than points or goals scored.

He performed reasonably well but still looked slightly awkward away from his Anfield sanctuary. He played within himself mostly, doing a job for the team.

He did have a penalty taken away from him by VAR in the crucial clash with Colombia that saw Senegal knocked out. Given a more central role in that game, he was feeding on scraps most of the time -- a stark contrast to his Liverpool appearances.

Senegal led twice against Japan, the team that eventually progressed, so a lack of game management ultimately cost Mane's side dear. They conceded late goals in all three games. Perhaps it wasn't such a contrast to Liverpool after all?

Firmino is still in Russia and may yet be present at the final itself, but it could be a rather frustrated presence.

Brazil coach Tite clearly favours Gabriel Jesus up front, although Firmino has been used as a substitute twice and affected both games for the better.

Conspiracy theorists will weave a substrata of reasons why he can't get in, citing Neymar's influence perhaps. It's becoming clearer that former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho is really the best player in that team. 

Despite now being a Barcelona player, he still has a telepathic understanding with Firmino. They combined to make the vital breakthrough against Costa Rica and the Liverpool man's presence can only make Coutinho stronger. Such tittle-tattle about egos and star clashes are common at World Cups, but Firmino simply has to await another opportunity to prove his worth.

All three players are integral to any chance of further Liverpool progress next season. Some say they're the only chance, and that it's time for others to step up.

Klopp will be eager for goals from elsewhere. It's troubling that when Salah left the Champions League final his replacement was Adam Lallana. There was no trust in other forwards available, just a haphazard attempt to try and stifle Real Madrid's Marcelo, then released from any defensive duties.

There is talk of Klopp giving Dominic Solanke or Divock Origi more chances to shine. That doesn't feel like a tangible solution to any future dip in confidence or form suffered by his current "Fab Three".

Stories about signing Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke gather pace while a lot is already expected of Naby Keita without him playing a single second for the Reds yet.

Who knows, Liverpool may even sign a top class goalkeeper or work on their defensive solidity. Stranger things have happened in football. Not much stranger, admittedly.

Whoever arrives or leaves, fans hope their players will be fit and firing by August. Realists don't expect such a fantastic season from their three stars again. That's before factoring in how Liverpool rarely do well after a World Cup.

Fans may think international disappointments can just be brushed aside but it's not as easy as that.

Confidence in your own ability is vital to all footballers' success and hopefully a return to the loving arms of Klopp and their Anfield comfort zone can weave its magic once again.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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