Jurgen Klopp hoping for change of fortune this winter as Salah stats blow Liverpool boss away
Winter is coming. Though the November afternoon temperatures in Seville are expected to rise as high as 25 degrees, Liverpool will depart the city known as the 'Frying Pan of Europe' tomorrow night and plunge into a period marked by darkness during two seasons under Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool will play a game every four days between now and the end of January should they progress beyond the third round of the FA Cup.
The Reds entered the corresponding section of the campaign last year at the top of the table. By the end of it they were fourth - 10 points behind leaders Chelsea and tumbling out of both domestic cup competitions as well.
Klopp has not been afraid to take responsibility for what has happened in the past, not offering excuses relating to the absence of key players like Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané.
Thankfully for Klopp, there is no Africa Cup of Nations for Mané to think about in the next few months and he approaches winter knowing all of his attacking threats are almost fully-fit. Indeed, there was no need to rush Adam Lallana back into his match-day squad, with the influential midfielder left out during Saturday's smooth 3-0 victory over Southampton.
Maybe this will be the season where Klopp is not undone by twilight. Whereas 12 months ago Liverpool lost momentum, now they are gaining it. Roberto Firmino is much further down the line in his development as a centre-forward, while Mohamed Salah has emerged as a fourth reference point in this Liverpool team.
Klopp was bamboozled by mathematics when he discussed Salah's achievements inside the corridors of Anfield following his two goals against Southampton.
"If he continued at this rate he would finish the season on something like 70 goals, which isn't really likely," Klopp assessed, as the Egyptian moved on to 14 in just 18 games. Carry on like this and Salah will have 29 league goals by the end of May. Depending on how Liverpool do in the FA Cup and Europe, that figure would rise to more than 40.
Klopp spoke about "moments", insisting there will be spells where Firmino and Mané are the headline makers.
"This is the Mo Salah period - no problem with that; well deserved," he said.
There is no doubt that while Salah has improved the quality of Klopp's side as an individual, his presence is gradually helping the midfielders behind him to perform better.
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Jordan Henderson, for example, is learning there is nothing wrong with knocking a pass into space and letting Salah chase with all the enthusiasm of a Jack Russell hunting after a ball. If that isn't a possibility and defenders drop deep, it gives someone like Coutinho the room to operate and supply the assist, like he did for Salah's second goal. Coutinho later scored Liverpool's third.
"He (Salah) stretches the formation," Klopp explained.
"The speed of the boys means the last line drops - there can be no other reaction. And then we have the space (to play). The speed players aren't only for counter-attacking. Sometimes that's not possible. It's about stretching formation and creating space for the rest."
Salah's exploits act as a reminder that player progression is not an exact science. Just because he wasn't good enough to feature regularly for Chelsea a few years ago does not mean he cannot become top class a little later on. Kevin De Bruyne can talk about that experience.
Klopp was asked whether he saw any motivations in Salah to prove doubters wrong.
"I don't think it's like this," he replied. "Maybe it was one reason he came back, but he's not like 'now I will show you the real Mo Salah'.
"He was a kid when he came to Chelsea, and we have heard a few times that's quite difficult, and in that time they were really successful. It was quite difficult to come through. He was a kid at Chelsea; now he's a man." (© Independent News Service)