Saturday 19 January 2019

Liverpool v Roma countdown: 'I think Mo will feel pretty early in the game they are not his team-mates any more'


Former Roma striker Mo Salah
Former Roma striker Mo Salah
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

Jurgen Klopp says Mohamed Salah must bury old friendships and fight fire with fire against his former club Roma to prolong Liverpool's dreams of European glory.

Sentimentality will be cast aside when the new Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year faces those whose dressing-room he shared for two years at the Stadio Olimpico.

As Liverpool seek a significant first-leg advantage, Klopp reminded his superstar goalscorer of Italian defenders' mean reputation.

"I'm pretty sure Italian defenders are famous for not having friendly games, so I think Mo will feel pretty early in the game they are not his team-mates any more," said Klopp. "Then he can strike back in a football way."

The personal accolades are gathering for Salah since his £39m move from the Italian capital, but Klopp says only team honours will elevate the Egyptian's career. This is Liverpool's first opportunity in nine years to claim the most prized trophy in European football.

"He knows that. I don't need to tell him," said Klopp. "It is absolutely clear he sees what the boys are doing for him. You can't score without seeing the gap and making the pass.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

"Mo has scored an outstanding number of goals, which is the main reason for being PFA Player of the Year because the players know how special it is and how difficult it is to score. That's why we are so hot on strikers. It is really special that he knows."

The eve of major European ties at Anfield are dominated by similar themes - the weight of history, the importance of seizing the moment and the role of fans recreating the noise that inspired past glories.

There is also a point in cup runs of this nature when satisfaction at unforeseen progress yields to a demand to deliver. For Klopp's Liverpool, the mood has shifted through every stage of their Champions League journey, especially since the knockout rounds.

"Porto, at Porto, was a massive statement," said the German. "Did we expect that before the game? Of course not. Who can expect 5-0 at Porto? It doesn't happen too often. Then you play City and win again 3-0.

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"It was so massive so it felt like, 'Wow!' Not that we are surprised, but it was such a big step for us, in the manner that we played the games. That was all brilliant and that's what we have to deliver again."

Despite those statement victories, and Liverpool scoring more and conceding fewer than any other Champions League team this season, Klopp sounds more comfortable with the perception that his side are defying expectations rather than meeting them.

"People ask me if I feel pressure. No. I only feel opportunity," he said. "There is no pressure. We are in the semi-final. We are not the team that has to win. We are the team that can win. We always have wanted to win the next game and we have. Very often. Most people in the football world thought the last four was Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid and City, so Barcelona are not here because of Roma and City because of us. We both deserve to be here.

"Maybe a lot of people think the real final should be Real Madrid v Bayern Munich. That will not happen because they are in a semi, so one of us will go through. That is a big chance for both of us but a big job to do."

Captain Jordan Henderson feels Liverpool remain the least-fancied among the last four.

"I still see us as going into this as the underdog, with them beating Barcelona who were probably favourites before the last round," said Henderson.

"They have really laid down a marker for the Champions League. They are the team to beat."

Can that really be the case when you have beaten Manchester City 5-1 over two legs?

"Yes, but that's just us going out and doing what we are capable of," said Henderson.

"We need to keep doing that and doing it again and again and again. This is a huge challenge. A huge test. We need the perfect performance if we are going to get the result.

"Of course, the expectation will come, but we expect big things from ourselves with the players we have, the squad we have and the manager we have. We expect to go out there and perform to the levels we have.

"That's what you have to focus on - performance. A lot of things can happen in football but if you perform to the best of your ability, give everything, and do what the manager wants, then it gives you a better chance of winning."

Inevitably, Klopp and Henderson faced the perennial "history" question. "Our focus is for people to be looking back at this team in 20 or 30 years and saying how good we were and how special this year was or the next few years will be," said Henderson.

Whichever corner Klopp turns at Anfield, there is always a classic photograph or quote decorating a wall. He thinks his team are already fulfilling their own destiny.

"It is long ago Liverpool were last in the semi-finals. If in 10 years we don't come to the semis again, then we'll say, 'Last time, semis, that's history, 2018, that's already history'." © Daily Telegraph, London

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