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Jürgen Klopp had two things in common with Atlético Madrid’s players in the eighth minute of Tuesday’s enthralling Champions League tie at Wanda Metropolitano. First, he didn’t sense the danger when Andy Robertson’s cross sailed over their penalty area either. Second, he quickly realised that Mohamed Salah is, at present, perfecting the art of making the seemingly impossible possible.
No one studies Salah as intently on a daily basis or has managed him in as many games as Klopp, and yet those moments when the Liverpool forward becomes an unstoppable force retain a capacity to astonish. Manchester City felt it recently too. Last weekend it was Watford’s turn, followed by the supremely well-drilled champions of Spain as Salah became the first player in Liverpool’s 129-year history to score in nine successive matches. He will become the first in Liverpool’s history to score in three consecutive trips to Old Trafford should he make it 10 on Sunday.
“I have been blessed with incredible players during my time,” Klopp began when replaying Salah’s opener against Atlético in his mind. “But, no, when the ball went over all players in that situation and Mo had to already run pretty quick to get it before the sideline and then he turns, it didn’t look for me like a proper goalscoring opportunity. But challenge by challenge it developed into that.
“That is the difference between a moment when momentum is not on your side and when momentum is on your side. It is all about the quality of Mo in this moment to do it, to try it, and you can imagine how much all the players of Atlético knew about this ability and wanted to defend it desperately and still couldn’t do it. That is pretty special.”
Klopp was momentarily stumped on Friday when asked to compare the Egypt international with Cristiano Ronaldo. “Why should we compare Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah?” he said after some hesitation. “Both are obviously world-class players. Mo’s left foot is probably better and Cristiano is probably better in the air and his right foot is slightly better. Speed-wise, they are both pretty quick and they are desperate to score.”
Where the Liverpool manager really detects a likeness is in the professionalism that enabled Ronaldo to rescue United against Atalanta at the age of 36 and that Salah brings to training each day. It is, he believes, a reason the 29-year-old can enjoy similar longevity at the highest level.
“You need luck, because things can happen, but I think the professionalism of both is the one thing you can compare 100%,” he said. “It is probably the same. Mo is incredibly professional. He is really the first one in and very often the last out of all the players. He is constantly interested in all the things he can do and has to do to keep or improve the standard. I think he still has a lot to give.”
That hugely influential opinion inevitably leads into the ongoing issue of Salah’s contract, with agreement yet to be reached on extending a deal that has entered its final two years. The forward spent his day off on Thursday filming a Pepsi commercial in Liverpool city centre. Pressure is mounting on Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, to offer another lucrative endorsement of their own, one that reflects the market value of a player who their own manager has repeatedly claimed is the best in the world on current form.
If Salah follows Ronaldo’s lead and has at least another seven years ahead of him, surely that also enhances his claims for the biggest contract that Liverpool have ever paid? “It helps him, for sure, and the team he is playing for then as well; I hope it is us,” said a circumspect Klopp.
The numbers surrounding Salah make uncomfortable reading for FSG and Ole Gunnar Solskjær too, albeit in a different context as United’s manager plots how to beat Liverpool in a league game for the first time in seven attempts. “Salah is on fire,” Solskjær admitted on Friday. “Players like him don’t come along very often. We have to enjoy these players from afar – not Sunday, that’s too close.”
Liverpool’s goals return from seven away matches this season reads 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 5, 3 – a staggering average of 3.57 per game including visits to Porto and Atlético. Twenty-two goals in eight matches represents their most prolific start to a Premier League campaign under Klopp and their current expected goals figure of 2.55 per game is the highest of his reign.
Salah’s sublime form has enhanced the statistics but a team already synonymous with intense, attacking football have made alterations that have elevated the Egyptian too. Liverpool are taking more shots this term, averaging 20.75 per league game (166 from eight outings) compared with between 15-17 in the previous five seasons under Klopp. They are doing so with less possession than in previous seasons but more first-time passes into the final third, allowing Salah to showcase his clinical best against unsettled defences.
Klopp, aiming to record the 200th win of his reign on Sunday (penalty shootout victories included), does not take the prolific form for granted. He said: “It’s not that we are in a situation now where we just rely on our goalscoring skills and think: ‘We can concede two because we’ll score three anyway.’ It’s more a coincidence that we scored that often. We create chances and score but it’s quite strange that we do it in a row. I love winning football games 1-0 as well. It would be a good idea to keep a clean sheet for the United game.”