Why I’d Bench Salah Against Man City

I’m quite annoyed about last night. Let me be clear from the outset that I did not travel to Portugal, so I wasn’t on the ground and didn’t experience what countless Liverpool fans experienced both before and after the match. Yet I also don’t think that you need to be somewhere to be angered by what has happened. All of the reports emerging from Lisbon were of a local police force determined to treat travelling supporters like criminals. Heavy-handed policing tactics were deployed from the outset, with people being pushed with riot shields and threatened with batons for doing nothing other than going to watch their football team play in a match. Many were delayed from even making it into the ground in time to see kick-off thanks to a poorly managed entrance routine, which is disgraceful in and of itself. These are people that have paid a lot of money to attend a football match and yet are treated like hooligans, despite having displayed no such tendency towards violent behaviour during their time in the city in the preceding hours.

There will have been some Liverpool supporters that were worse for wear last night. There might have been others that had partaken of some illegal substances prior to heading towards the Estádio da Luz. None of these people will have been looking for trouble, nor does the fact that they’ve had a drink or smoke mean that it is appropriate to treat them like cattle. This doesn’t happen at horse racing or rugby, despite both sports having demonstrated their fair share of violent crowd behaviour countless times. Football fans are boisterous and raucous, yes, but it is rare for Liverpool fans to be involved in any trouble. Perhaps the reputation of England fans, who head to foreign locations and immediately seem to look for trouble, preceded the travelling Kop. Whatever the reason, it isn’t right, it isn’t fair and the club has to start calling it out. The vast majority of football fans are decent people who want to soak up the local culture and go and watch their team. If you drive them away, you really well end up with only the troublemakers left.

Salah Looks Tired

Mo Salah is, in my opinion, the best player in the world. On his day, he can terrorise defences and look like the most dangerous footballer on the pitch. I am not worried about the Egyptian’s long-term form, but I’m starting to be a little bit concerned about how things are in the short-term. I expressed this opinion on Twitter at half-time last night and was inundated with replies from people saying that he hasn’t been quite right since the Africa Cup Of Nations and that he’ll be fine. I agree with both sentiments, but I’m not convinced that he’ll be fine without Jürgen Klopp doing something to help him. He was getting in all of the right positions last night, but his touch was heavy and his passing imprecise. A Salah on-form scores the chance that he’s presented with second-half, but this one struck it straight at the goalkeeper. When someone is tired, both mentally and physically, they can’t recover simply because you point out that they look tired. The manager needs to enforce a rest on him, even though it will go against his every thought to do so.

There have been plenty of times in Liverpool’s past when we have needed to keep playing someone in spite of their form. The idea that they’re ‘due a goal’ would be all-pervading, so we’d run them into the ground rather than afford them the rest that they need. This team is not one that is dependent on the skillset of just one player. Roberto Firmino played his best game in as long as I can remember against Watford on Saturday. Yes, it was ‘only Watford’, but he was untouchable at times and looks so much better from the start than when coming on as a substitute. Though Sadio Mané has done well through the middle, he started his Anfield career on the right of our attack and knows how to play there. Diogo Jota, meanwhile, has shown a tendency to be absolutely deadly in front of goal when playing from the left. That’s to say nothing of how well Luis Díaz has settled into life in Liverpool, who more than deserves a start. My point is, we don’t need to start Mo Salah, with his form suggesting that maybe it’s time we chose not to.

City Won’t Be Expecting It

Manchester City are one of the best teams in the world, with a manager that deserves to be mentioned amongst the greatest of all time. In both cases, I personally think there needs to be a big asterisk against them, pointing out the amount of money that has been spent to allow them to be what they are. Sadly, though, no one in a position of power is willing to do anything about it, so we have to take City and Pep Guardiola on as they are. We know from previous Champions League experience that the Spaniard tends to overthink the biggest games, despite his protestations to the contrary. He will have prepared his team to face Jota on the left, Mané thought the middle and Salah on the right. If our team sheet doesn’t feature the Egyptian, Guardiola’s plans will be thwarted before a ball has been kicked. He’ll have time to adjust them, of course, but having spent the days in training preparing for something else, it will throw confusing into the ranks. Any little advantage that we can gain for this match could prove to be all-important.

On top of that, Mo Salah will be seething on the bench. When he eventually comes on – and he would come on at some point – he will be laser-focussed on proving a point to the manager and the watching world. Whilst victory at the Etihad is our only realistic chance of winning the title, this season is about more than that. If we end up with a Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup treble then I certainly won’t be complaining. Getting Salah back in peak-form is the best way of winning as many trophies as possible. We could have him play from the start, score a hat-trick and still lose, such is the extent to which City are a phenomenal side. If we can give him a rest, have him come on with a point to prove and bamboozle Guardiola all at the same time, why on earth wouldn’t we do as much? Ultimately, of course, there’s nothing I like more than being proven wrong over any negative thoughts I have about Liverpool. If the manager starts him, I desperate hope he makes me look like a fool and plays the best he’s ever played. It’s our best hope of the title.

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