Saturday 23 February 2019

'How many times is it going to happen?' - Liverpool stars Reds rally around Salah amid latest 'diving' storm

Spot on: Mo Salah hits the deck after being fouled by Brighton’s Pascal Grob. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Spot on: Mo Salah hits the deck after being fouled by Brighton’s Pascal Grob. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

It was the decisive and most contentious moment in the game, but one that the introduction next season of a video assistant referee would not have changed.

Mohamed Salah was impeded inside the penalty area by Pascal Gross and got up to score emphatically after referee Kevin Friend had correctly pointed to the spot.

Yet what happened next? Sustained booing of Salah amid the suggestion that he had dived.

Arsenal centre-back Sokratis was similarly outraged when Salah won a penalty at Anfield, prompting Virgil van Dijk to intervene directly on behalf of his team-mate.

The video evidence here once again favoured Salah and Liverpool are clearly becoming irritated by how their star striker's reputation is being questioned.

"Every time it happens, we go back, everyone looks at the video, and you go, 'well, it's not a dive'," said full-back Andrew Robertson. "He is not that sort of player, so how many times is it going to happen?

Salah celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot. Photo: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters
Salah celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot. Photo: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

"I was at the edge of the box and it was a stonewaller. If people are starting to say Mo has gone down easily, it's not fair. The one against Arsenal, especially, he got clipped three times. They still appealed. It's a bit of desperation."

Brighton centre-back Gross admitted that he would need to look back at the replay to be certain, but his first thought was that Salah had checked his run.

"I had the feeling that I pulled my arm away at the right moment and he just stopped," he said.

Salah's intervention was certainly timely. After consecutive defeats, this was a potentially pivotal moment in Liverpool's season.

Salah scores from the penalty spot. Photo: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters
Salah scores from the penalty spot. Photo: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

The December swagger could not be recaptured, but their quality at both ends of the pitch, in Salah and Van Dijk, was sufficient to ensure that all the pressure is now back on Manchester City ahead of their match tonight against Wolves.

Manager Jurgen Klopp said that it had been "the most mature" Liverpool performance of the season, and it was certainly further evidence that they are a very different defensive proposition following the acquisitions of defender Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson.

Excitement

Another factor that should not be underestimated is Klopp's own experience in winning two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund.

Handling all the excitement and expectation at this chance to end a 29-year wait for the league title will be critical in the coming weeks and Klopp's mantra is simple: focus only on yourself.

"You have no influence over what the other teams are doing," he said. "If you play against them, then prepare (for) them. If you don't, then ignore them."

It is hard to believe that Klopp will pay no attention to what happens at the Etihad tonight, but he certainly does seem to have drawn a line under their 2-1 defeat against the defending champions.

After Liverpool's FA Cup exit to Wolves opened up an 11-day window between Premier League fixtures against Crystal Palace on Saturday and Leicester City, preparations for the final run-in will include a training camp in Dubai.

Klopp hopes that the warm weather will be especially beneficial physically for those players returning from injury, notably Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and perhaps Adam Lallana.

Fabinho was again needed at centre-back here and the midfield did lack a certain authority and rhythm.

"People can often overreact when you go that long without the first defeat, but we all stayed calm," said Robertson, whose wife gave birth to their second child last Thursday - a daughter, Aria.

"The lads dusted themselves down after a very busy Christmas period. It was all about how we bounced back.

"We know it's going to go right to the wire and, whoever wins the league will look back on some games and say, 'do you know what, we probably weren't at our best there, and that was probably one that helped us turn one point into three'. If we manage to do it, I'm sure we'll look back on this game as one of them."

After 4-0 and 5-1 defeats against Liverpool last season, this second 1-0 loss was at least some measure of Brighton's progress.

"I was pleased with a lot of aspects - Liverpool are the best team in the country at the moment," said manager Chris Hughton. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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