COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
For a guy who had just lost an important Champions League game, Jurgen Klopp seemed particularly optimistic after Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat against Paris-Saint Germain.
The slender loss to Thomas Tuchel’s side, which has put the Reds in a must-win situation against Napoli on matchday six, didn’t tell the full story on a night that saw the Reds outplayed, outfought and outthought – the marginal defeat flattered them.
“Now we have to use Anfield one more time,” he quipped. “We are calling Anfield right now and we’ll see what happens.”
On the one hand, one could brush it off as the German messing about. However, when one takes into account the Merseyside club’s Anfield record, that’s seen them lose just once in 20 matches since late January, one could begin to share his sentiments.
The Reds have kept 14 clean sheets in that time, and the one loss they suffered was with a much-changed side in the 2-1 Carabao Cup defeat by Chelsea in late September.
Equally, the renaissance of ‘one season wonder’ Mohamed Salah has contributed to that surge of confidence. The Egyptian’s hat-trick at Bournemouth on Saturday, which took his league tally since the start of last season to 42, saw him move to second place behind only Lionel Messi (45) for the player with the most league goals across the big five European leagues since 2017/18.
Locally, the forward’s hit the 40-goal mark in 52 games, which sees him lie in third place behind Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, both of whom needed just 45 games apiece to net 40, in the Premier League. In Liverpool colours, he sits joint-top with Fernando Torres and ahead of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen (77) as well as Luis Suarez who needed 78 games to score 40 league goals.
The fact that Salah isn’t an out-and-out centre-forward makes his achievements even more admirable, and he’ll be vital to the Anfield giants’ efforts against Napoli on Tuesday night.
Having scored a meagre three times between mid-August and mid-October, the wideman has followed that up with nine strikes in 11 games, and more importantly, seems to be playing with fire in his belly again, following his post-World Cup struggles.
Mohamed Salah | 2018-19 Premier League stats
In European competition since his move in the summer of 2017, the hard-working forward has hit the back of the net nine times in the same number of appearances in games at Anfield. He has failed to make the net bulge in only two games within that period – a goalless draw against FC Porto and the Reds’ 3-2 success over PSG in September.
Digging deeper, the Egypt international was only introduced in the final 15 minutes against the accomplished Portuguese side in the Round of 16 second-leg, having triumphed 5-0 at Estadio do Dragao in the pair’s initial meeting. With next to nothing at stake at the time of his introduction for the final quarter, it shows the attacker has failed to score just once in a home game that actually mattered.
He’s often decisive on European nights at Anfield, and it will not be out of place tipping him to do some damage to Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues.
With Tuchel’s PSG expected to show their superior class against Red Star Belgrade (who, it has to be noted, are still unbeaten at Rajko Mitic Stadium with four points) and consequently move to 11 points, the other qualification slot ostensibly seems to be between Klopp’s side and Ancelotti’s charges.
The former, on six points, need a 1-0 win or a win by two goals against the Italian side (nine). The Naples-based club currently sits atop the standings with nine points, which leaves them needing a point to guarantee qualification.
In an event whereby the Parisian giants fail to secure a win in Serbia, Salah and co. will need to trump tonight’s visitors as any kind of victory will see them through.
While all the attention has been firmly placed on the Reds’ amazing form in front of their supporters, it should be emphasized that the Italians are still unbeaten after five matchdays in this season’s competition. They haven’t suffered any sort of defeat since their 3-1 setback against Juventus in late September, which leaves them on a 12-game undefeated streak.
The visitors certainly won’t be pushovers, so it’s been strange seeing pre-match predictions suggesting the Reds have this one sealed owing to their fortress that is Anfield.
While home advantage can’t be understated, Ancelotti’s players have played in front of hostile crowds before and that shouldn’t see them cower in fear. The fact that they also dominated the five-time European champions at Stadio San Paolo will have them believing they can do damage on Merseyside.
Asking Klopp to go all Chicken Little concerning their qualification hopes may have been out of place, but there could’ve been a balance. There seems to be a false sense of accomplishment that’s spread across the fans, who have so much confidence in their strength at Anfield, that complacency may creep in.
Salah will surely be out to produce another pivotal home performance as he and his teammates seek to prevent last year’s finalists from suffering the ignominy of group-stage elimination months after coming so close to securing a sixth title.