Friday 21 June 2019

Klopp hails Salah's coolness under pressure as Reds storm Palace

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Lawrence Ostlere

Of all Mohamed Salah's goals this season, Jurgen Klopp pinpoints one, scored back in October and a long way from Liverpool, which elevated him to his current plane.

On an edgy night at the Borg el-Arab Stadium in Alexandria, with the score 1-1, Congo conceded a 93rd-minute penalty to hand Egypt the chance to seal a place at their first World Cup since 1990 - an incident which sparked wildly premature celebrations, as the Reds manager remembers.

"The best thing was how they celebrated getting the penalty," said Klopp, talking after Liverpool's 2-1 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, in which Salah again clinched the winner.

"I've never seen that in my life. Germany in 1990 didn't celebrate winning the World Cup like this," said Klopp.

"And they only got the penalty - then they thought 'Someone actually has to shoot'. That was real pressure."

There was only ever one man to bear the burden for Egypt. Salah, who had already scored once in the match, calmly collected the ball, touched it against his forehead, and placed it down on the spot.

Klopp was watching the game at home and remembered: "I nearly had a heart attack. Salah paused before puffing out a breath and drilling it convincingly into the corner.

"That's why he got the next penalty at Liverpool - and he missed it," Klopp added with a grin.

"That was not too good. But we all have these game-changer moments in our life and maybe that was one of his. If you deliver in a situation like this, this is what can happen to you."

What has happened is an astonishing season of goalscoring closing in on record figures for Liverpool and the Premier League.

Salah has 29 league goals - 37 for Liverpool in total, 41 for club and country.

What Klopp said made him a "proper striker" was that he barely flickered on Palace's radar for much of Saturday's match, trotting around Selhurst Park's peripheries, until he collected the ball in the box in the 84th minute and everyone in the ground knew what would come next.

Is he starting to carry the weight of Liverpool's expectation, like he does for Egypt?

"Maybe," replied Klopp. "But I don't think it's a proper burden. I think it's just responsibility. Nobody told him to score 30 goals otherwise we can't be successful, and now we don't tell him that if he doesn't score we cannot win."

But more often than not he does score, and this is the thing. He is beyond a purple patch, a rich vein, an inspired run of form.

This is just Mohamed Salah: ruthless and reliable, whether he's six yards out or 25, on a hat-trick or on the fringes. He has reached an exceptional level and what is so eye-catching is the way he has sustained it.

Aged 25, the only thing that could feasibly stop Salah and Liverpool from enjoying a long romance is advances from elsewhere.

Klopp was asked this. Is he worried Salah might be attracting admirers from Spain, like Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho?

The manager leaned forwards, eyes narrowing through his glasses. "No," came the reply, followed by a long pause. "What else do you want me to say?"

Palace started the game energetically, and Wilfried Zaha had already blown a hole in the visitors' back line before he blitzed past Trent Alexander-Arnold and was clattered by Loris Karius.

There was no doubt about the penalty decision, and it was no surprise to see Luka Milivojevic subsequently lash the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

It was the fourth penalty kick Zaha has earned this season - no player has won more - and third spot-kick Milivojevic has scored in six games.

With Christian Benteke dominant in the air and Zaha so sharp across the floor, Liverpool looked wobbly.

There were still chances, though, with Salah testing Wayne Hennessey and Sadio Mane diverting a corner inches wide.

Mane had the ball in the net before the break but was rightly flagged offside, while he was also booked for diving after a delayed and dramatic fall following a challenge from James McArthur.

After the break, Liverpool found the equaliser through Mane, tapping the ball home from a low James Milner cross.

After Benteke had missed two clear opportunities in the space of a minute, Liverpool were lucky that Mane was not dismissed for picking up the ball when he thought he had been fouled.

Klopp was less generous, instantly replacing Mane with playmaker Adam Lallana, who soon hobbled off nursing what appeared to be a hamstring problem.

Inevitably, Salah had the final say though. A deep cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on as a substitute, found Andy Robertson at the back post and the Scotland full-back found Salah in the six-yard box, where the Egyptian simply did what he always does.

Irish Independent

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