Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

From left, Liverpool's midfielder Harvey Elliott, defender Dejan Lovren and midfielder Mohamed Salah stretch during a training session on Monday. AFP)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.


Title, not invincible tag, the most important goal for Salah

Updated 18 January 2020

Title, not invincible tag, the most important goal for Salah

LONDON: Mohamed Salah says Liverpool’s focus is solely on ending a 30-year wait to win the Premier League title, rather than doing so by going the whole season unbeaten.

Jurgen Klopp’s men have dropped just 2 points in 21 games to set a new record for Europe’s top five leagues of 61 points from a possible 63 to start the campaign.

That has propelled the European champions into a 14-point lead over title holders Manchester City with a game in hand, but Salah insists the Reds are still taking their title challenge one game at a time ahead of Manchester United’s visit to Anfield on Sunday.

“We don’t think about being unbeaten until the end of the season. If we do that, it would be great, but at the end of the day we just want to win the Premier League. That’s the most important thing,” Salah told Premier League Productions.

“Unbeaten or not, it’s not necessary — we want to win the Premier League.”

Liverpool could move a massive 30 points clear of United with victory on Sunday, but the Red Devils are the only side to take points off them this season after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October.

Salah missed that match through injury and is keen to make up for lost time in the clash between English football’s two most successful sides.

“We need to win, we need to carry on in our way — the way we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season and since last year,” added the Egyptian.

“Of course we know it’s big for the fans, for the city and for us. But at the end of the day, we play the game to win.”