The title race in the Premier League continues as normal for Liverpool, who managed to secure fresh three points by beating Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex on Saturday, courtesy of goals from Luis Diaz in the 19th minute and Mohamed Salah’s penalty execution in the 61st.
Victory shrouded in Salah uncertainty
However, the general feeling of triumph in the Liverpool camp this weekend may have been a bit paler than usual in light of the latest developments surrounding the future of Salah.
It had been reported many times over the last few months that securing the future of the Egyptian at the club was the No. 1 priority, ahead of any potential signing from elsewhere. But it was also very strange that no report of progress in the talks between the club and the player’s representative appeared for a while. Manager Jurgen Klopp was asked about it during the pre-match press conference, and his usual positive stance on such matters seemed to be dampened as he said there was very little the club could do at this point and that it was now up to Salah.
Mere minutes after these words were spoken, Salah’s agent posted a tweet that seemed to be mocking the words of the manager.
Needless to say, this hasn’t gone unnoticed among the Liverpool supporters, nor has it gone down well. Most of them quickly responded by pointing out that if forced to choose sides in a spat between Klopp on one side and Mo Salah and his agent on the other, they’d back the German tactician, who has undoubtedly transformed the club and the team to make it one of the best in the game, as well as developed Mo Salah into the player he is today. Great though Salah’s contribution to the successes of recent years has been, Klopp has been the man pulling the strings and making it all work.
Salah’s penalty in this match was his 20th league goal of the season, Liverpool’s 2000th in
the Premier League era by the way, and he convincingly tops the chart in that aspect, with teammates Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota, along with Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo, sharing the second place with 12 goals apiece.
However, despite all the insistence from a number of usually reliable journalists that Salah is a professional who doesn’t allow contract uncertainties to affect his on-pitch performance, it should be said that the 29-year-old hasn’t scored a Premier League goal from open play in almost a month, the last being the one in the 3-1 win over Norwich City on February 19th. He did bag one in the Champions League in that period though, against Inter Milan in Italy.
There are many questions that need to be answered here, as much for Salah’s sake as for that
of the club and its supporters. Is there any chance this stumbling block in the negotiations is overcome soon? If that doesn’t happen, will the club receive an offer for his services they would be willing to consider this summer, and is there a club willing to pay a considerable fee for a player who turns 30 this June and has 12 months left on his contract? If that doesn’t happen either, will the talks about a new contract recommence? And finally, if Salah does end up leaving, how do Liverpool replace him and how much will they miss him?
As for the last question, the story of the departure of Philippe Coutinho in January 2018 and the subsequent arrivals of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Fabinho suggest that Liverpool know how to handle the task of replacing departing stars, but it would certainly represent the end of an era for many. One thing only seems certain; as long as Mo Salah wears the Liverpool shirt, the supporters will be singing his name loudly on every occasion.
The match at the Amex ended rather unceremoniously for Salah; he went down injured and was replaced by Diogo Jota just four minutes after scoring from the spot.
“We will see,” Klopp told BT Sport after the game.
“He thinks it’s not serious but you can see when Mo Salah is sitting down then something is not 100 per cent right.”
Mo Salah unfortunately wasn’t the only player to be forced out of this match by an injury.
Adam Lallana spent six years at Liverpool and was a crucial player as Klopp started putting his high-press ideas into action, particularly during the 2016-17 season when he formed a surprisingly fine midfield trio with Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum.
However, frequent injury absences eventually forced Klopp to find alternative solutions for his team, and Lallana’s significance gradually diminished. He eventually left in 2020 as a free agent, and joined Brighton.
Having said a warm ‘hello’ to Klopp ahead of the match, Lallana entered the fray for the Seagulls replacing Steven Alzate at the start of the second half. Seven minutes later, he crouched down in disappointment, obviously unable to continue playing, sending out another strong reminder of the main reason why his Liverpool career didn’t end the way he would’ve wanted it to end.
With all the uncertainty around Salah, the arrival of Luis Diaz could not have come at a better moment for Liverpool. The Colombian winger is yet to put a foot wrong since joining the club, and his performance against the Seagulls was unbelievable. Again.
The total cost of Diaz’s transfer from FC Porto is expected to reach €60 million, but as things are going, it’s likely to prove a bargain for the Merseysiders, and Porto may well be wondering if they sold their best player too cheaply.
The amount of trouble the 25-year-old gives to any defender facing him is simply marvelous to see. It’s not easy, for example, to outpace Tariq Lamptey, but Diaz had no problems showing the Brighton speedster his heels on several occasions.
There is still, perhaps, a feeling that his understanding with his new teammates is yet to reach the right level, but it’s only understandable given that he’s been with them for practically less than two months.
Diaz’s role at Liverpool is already highly prominent, but if Salah leaves this summer, it will likely become vital.
What’s with Brighton?
Brighton were doubtlessly a greatly positive surprise the Premier League season delivered in the first couple of months. Their style under Graham Potter is a brave, attack-oriented one even against top opposition and in the opening 10-15 minutes of the clash they were more than a match for Liverpool.
Nonetheless, they obviously couldn’t keep that up for long enough, and their will and ability to vie with the visitors’ quality seemed broken after a while. They did have a couple of decent chances to score, most notably late on when substitute Danny Welbeck got to the ball ahead of Van Dijk on the edge of six yards and diverted it under the bar, only to be thwarted by the superb reflexes of Alisson.
But for Graham Potter and his men there’s no hiding from the fact that this was their fifth consecutive league defeat. Managers have been sacked in this game for less. The fine start to the season they had was supposed to give them a proper chance of fighting for a place in Europe next season. As it turns out, it’s significance is now reduced to giving them a cushion towards the relegation zone. That cushion still seems pretty comfortable, but it feels like a big disappointment nonetheless.
Funnily enough, the penalty awarded to Liverpool in this match was probably the least controversial moment of all. Only Yves Bissouma knows what he was thinking and if he was thinking at all or reacting completely on impulse when he raised his arm to block Naby Keita’s effort from range while standing well inside the box. Referee Mike Dean was in no doubt to blow the the whistle and even the VAR felt no inclination to review the incident.
But Liverpool’s first goal did produce a questionable moment for the officials. Joel Matip whipped a great pass forward for Diaz to chase. Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal came out running but Diaz got to the ball first, heading past Sanchez into the gaping goal, but Sanchez lifted his leg straight into Diaz and caught his opponent directly with both an arm and the leg, leaving him lying on the ground in a heap.
The VAR did review this moment, but Stuart Atwell, in charge of the technology aid in this match, decided there wasn’t enough malice in what Sanchez did for a red card to be awarded and therefore did not prompt Dean to go to the pitch-side monitor. Many disagree with Atwell’s call, but it was still his call to make.
On the other hand, the Liverpool goalkeeper may have been spared some blushes as well later as he rushed out and caught the ball seemingly on the very line of the box. Alisson’s feet were well outside, that cannot be argued against, but there was no way for the linesman to be certain that the ball had crossed the imaginary line above the one on the ground from his angle of perspective. As this incident does not fall into the jurisdiction of the VAR, nothing was given.
Both teams play opponents from North London next. Brighton face Tottenham Hotspur at the Amex on Wednesday, the same day when Liverpool travel to take on Arsenal at the Emirates.
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