Mohamed Salah now vital to Liverpool but attacking depth still an issue
Mohammed Salah has hit the ground running with five goals already this season since arriving at Liverpool from Roma this summer. The latest, an equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Burnley on Saturday, showed great awareness to find space in the box. And that has been a key facet of all his performances so far.
Could he have scored even more? Undoubtedly yes, and it's the one question mark against the Egyptian as he firmly establishes himself as a crowd favourite.
During Liverpool's only major disappointment -- a 5-0 rout at Manchester City -- he was still the visitors' main threat and caused several moments of concern for Pep Guardiola's side before a red card for Sadio Mane handed them a huge advantage.
There were worries about Salah's final touch and composure that day, too, but it is certainly a nice problem for Jurgen Klopp to have; his top scorer could easily have doubled an already impressive account in the opening seven games.
If Salah could somehow keep going, even at half his current rate, he'd still exceed the 15 goals a season fans were expecting from such an expensive recruit in his first year.
Some try to equate the Reds' wastefulness with their defensive shortcomings but that's ridiculous. A mere glance at the numbers shows the forwards are doing their job and any rationalisation to lessen defenders' culpability must be avoided.
Under Liverpool's current style of play they will need to score a lot more than everybody else. Fans are resigned to them conceding goals now, and there is concern that the continuous defensive lapses will soon exert too much pressure on forwards who are always expected to compensate for their error-ridden colleagues at the back.
There were signs of that against Burnley, who survived a traditional second-half Anfield siege by the skin of their teeth. Panic did set in with a nervous crowd and chances went begging that should probably be snapped up.
Mane's absence did have an effect but it's worth remembering the first hour against Crystal Palace earlier in the season. Salah was rested but Liverpool's efforts up front were so feeble he was soon dragged off the bench. Suddenly the Reds were a threat again. Mane got the winner but it was Salah's impact that mattered most.
There were glimpses in preseason of how effective he could be, with more goals scored and several impressive combinations with a motivated Philippe Coutinho creating huge anticipation for the coming season.
Coutinho wasn't brilliant in his first proper outing against Burnley but, after publically stating he's prepared to give his all after a failed attempt to join Barcelona this summer, fans look forward to his renewed attempts to find Salah with defence-splitting passes -- like the one Emre Can provided on Saturday.
It is the combined efforts of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino that are really exciting supporters right now. Even the weaker sides, expected to sit deep and cause Liverpool similar problems to last season, have not really been able to stem the flow of chances.
Any deviation from that forward line hasn't gone too well, though. The absence of any one winger usually means Firmino moving out wide, something he rarely comes to terms with. Putting Daniel Sturridge central instead hasn't worked for Klopp either -- as proven against Burnley.
With this in mind, the far-fetched, late transfer window stories about a £90m deal for Monaco's Thomas Lemar become much more understandable. The various combinations available to the manager if that eventually came off would make the mouth water.
When £35m was eventually spent on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain it was assumed he would replace Mane or Salah when either was unavailable. So far he has played very little football for Liverpool, despite Mane's enforced absence, and seems keen to play centrally. The former Arsenal man will need more game time to get his chance to impress, though that will hopefully happen on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup match at Leicester City.
With no European football this season, the Foxes may opt for an assault on domestic cups, while Klopp has to bear in mind his players need help to come to terms with a Champions League workload.
He also has to placate ambitious fans that want to win trophies and won't take kindly to one being thrown away so early with a weak team selection. It's always a tough call to make, but fans can still expect an under-strength team at the King Power.
It's not as if Klopp has had any success at Leicester anyway, even with his first-choice XI. Perhaps some second-level players, eager to impress their manager, can provide a different result?
In all likelihood Salah will be given a complete break or a place on the bench at best. He has become too important to Liverpool's primary ambitions this season and must be protected as much as Mane or Coutinho.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.