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Transfer Rater: Nkunku to Liverpool

Football Whispers
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 By Dave Usher

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane's case as Liverpool's best-ever front three

The guys respond to your tweets about the Premier League manager of the year, Andres Iniesta and whether they'd take Mohamed Salah or Neymar.

Best front three in the history of Liverpool Football Club? For Liverpool supporters of a certain age, the answer comes instinctively: "John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge, of course. Stupid question!"

The Reds have had more than their share of great double acts down the years: Ian St John and Roger Hunt. John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. And of course, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush. When it comes to trios, though, the aforementioned threesome has always stood out above all the rest.

Their crown is under serious threat now, though.

Somewhat surprisingly, the best goal tally that Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge managed was 64 in the 1987-88 season. It's an impressive number, but it isn't mind-blowing. Other less-heralded Liverpool forward lines have matched it and the current triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have completely obliterated it.

Of course, there was far more to Barnes and Beardsley than just goals, and their success can be measured in medals as well as the brand of football Liverpool produced that season. Liverpool's play that year reached a whole new level, so much so that it is used by many as a reference point for greatness. Indeed, the popular Anfield anthem, "A Liverbird Upon my Chest" contains the line "Kenny's boys of '88, there's never been a side so great."

The front three were a big reason why that team was so special, but in terms of goal output, they actually produced more the following season, when Aldridge was sold during the campaign. If you combine Aldridge's goals with those of his replacement, Ian Rush, it adds up to 67, three more than the previous season.

The following season, which marked Liverpool's last league title win, the same trio improved by three goals once more to reach the 70-goal mark.

Barnes led the way with 28 from out wide, which was enough to earn him the Footballer of the Year award. Salah currently has 12 more than that, also from a wide forward's role, and has at least six games left to play. It remains to be seen whether it will be enough for him to emulate Barnes and be named Footballer of the Year.

Salah has played a starring role this year as Liverpool's front three have completely blown away the goal totals of those who have gone before them. However, much like the great "Messi or Maradona?" debate, it's skewed somewhat by the vast differences between today's game and that of 30 years ago.

Forwards in the 80s had to run through a gauntlet of horror tackles from opponents and often played on pitches that resembled a plowed field. Would Liverpool's current front three have been this prolific had they played back then? And how much more effective would Barnes have been playing on bowling green pitches against full-backs who are barely allowed to touch him? We can guess, but nobody knows for certain.

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have rewritten Liverpool's goalscoring records this season.

Comparing individuals from different eras is a difficult and divisive task. Salah has been incredible this season, but he has a long way still to go to be held in the same reverence by the Kop as Barnes. Perhaps that conversation can take place in a few years, but not now. Not yet.

Comparing the collective, however, is a somewhat easier task. It wasn't so long ago that supporters were debating whether this current front three is even as good as the trio of attackers who almost fired the Reds to an unlikely title triumph in 2014, let alone whether they were worthy of comparison with the iconic 1988 vintage.

Is that even in doubt now though? Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling contributed 65 goals in 2014. It felt like something special at the time but, numerically at least, it's the same total that Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Stan Collymore managed in 1995-96, and it's a whopping 17 less than the 82 that Salah, Firmino and Mane have combined for this year with six (potentially seven) games to play.

The underachievement of that mid-90s side always counts against them and they are generally not remembered as fondly as they perhaps ought to be. No doubt some will be surprised that they plundered the same amount of goals as Suarez & Co., not to mention being right up there with the late-80s legends.

Trophies go a long way toward deciding who is remembered as "great" and who isn't, though. Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge won major trophies. Fowler, McManaman, Suarez, Sturridge, etc., did not.

This is Liverpool's most prolific attacking trio of the modern era and it's not even close. With 82 goals and counting. It isn't completely out of the question that they could yet reach a century. Yet even with all of those goals from the forwards, Liverpool are currently only in third place, with just an outside chance of finishing second.

So how can the Reds improve next season? Perhaps the front three can step it up even more next year, but it's going to be a tall order to exceed what they've done in this campaign. In fact, it would be fantastic if they could even come close to matching it.

Defensive improvement is needed, but adding goals from other areas of the side (particularly midfield) would go a long way toward closing the gap with Manchester City.

As for this year, there's still a European Cup to be won and if the Reds can go all the way, then surely Salah, Firmino and Mane would have to be considered beyond any doubt as the best forward line in Liverpool's long and illustrious history. In fairness, they probably are anyway, but only silverware will settle the argument once and for all.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.

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