With a drop in form coinciding with one of the most important weeks in Liverpool’s season, Jurgen Klopp has a big call to make over Mohamed Salah…
Football hasn’t smiled on Salah too much of late, but with a maximum of 15 games to go and the biggest week of the season so far about to start, he is now presented with two games in which he can swiftly turn that frown upside down.
Not for the first time, a cloud has been hanging over Salah, as recent international disappointments and contract conundrums have provoked a mild crisis of confidence, in which there has been an undeniable dip in his usual standards.
Mo will snap out of it, though, because contract issues aside we’ve been here before with him.
As the old banner goes, form is temporary, class is permanent. As soon as that spring returns to his step he will bounce his way through to the end of May.
Sooner or later, somebody will suffer, and if Jurgen Klopp strategically opts to stand Salah down from his starting lineup in Lisbon, against Benfica on Tuesday, then it will automatically put Man City in his sightlines on Sunday.
Conversely, should he play in Portugal and once again fail to hit the high gears, then there must be a temptation to leave him on the sidelines at the Etihad, as the needs of the collective take precedence.
Another win was picked off by Liverpool on Saturday at home to Watford, albeit one that was yet again accumulated within an air of cruise control.
A victory that put Liverpool on top of the Premier League table for a couple of hours, it was, however, once again an unsatisfactory occasion for Salah from an individual perspective, as he was replaced by Sadio Mane with more than 20 minutes remaining of a game in which his team still only held a slender lead.
Contract rumours continue to swing from one extreme to the other, and football supporters’ propensity to need a pantomime villain subtly makes him fair game for the social media snipers.
Mad Twitter polls have been popping up on who was better at their peak, Salah or Suarez, almost as if some are stepping up their game in preparing themselves mentally for his departure, perhaps opting for a protracted disassociation, so as to protect themselves from the pain of his loss.
‘Oh, he’s going, is he? Well, he wasn’t all that good after all’. Human nature and all that.
Salah has been a phenomenon in a Liverpool shirt, though, one of our greatest players, and I’d quite like him to continue to be so.
But if he were to move on – and he will sooner or later – then footballing life would move on for us too. We would adapt. New idols are never too far away, and some are already here.
Within this, the message that Klopp is projecting is one of focus. Focusing on the job at hand, and those prospective 15 games in which great trophy-winning riches are at stake.
Klopp is of the mind that everything else can click into place after that – perhaps even inclusive of a decision on the length of his own future at Liverpool, something that will no doubt be part of Salah’s own considerations.
For Salah, his Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifying disappointments with Egypt, both against Mane and Senegal, will have added extra emphasis to his current period of introspection.
When bad things happen, it is only natural to overthink what comes next; we will have all indulged in that at some point in our lives.
At 28 goals and counting for this season, Salah will undoubtedly start lashing his frustrations out on opposing teams before too long, though.
He’s too good to fume for long, as he loves scoring goals and winning trophies much, much more than he loves brooding about things that he either has no control over or will all come out in the summer wash.
Functional against Watford, for Liverpool, Diogo Jota was the star of the show once again, while pretty much everyone in the stadium was pleasantly surprised that play was held up in order for us to be awarded a late Fabinho penalty.
We all looked at each other, completely bemused, before going home to see on TV that it was as blatant as a penalty as we are likely to get throughout the run-in.
It made for a surreal end to a day when I tipped up at Anfield only to be completely taken by surprise to see Watford supporters walking around, as the international break had led me to some sort of L4 time slip where I had been utterly certain that we were playing Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace instead.
Of course, as is the rule whenever Hodgson is involved, there had to be a comedy lament, and this time it was directed at VAR successfully doing its job.
Benfica next, and a game that represents the firing pistol being brandished to start the season’s sprint finish.
A comfortable win would not only pave a way into the semi-final of the Champions League, but it would also be the perfect launchpad for throwing ourselves into back-to-back domestic spats with City.
Things are about to get wild.