Jurgen Klopp has brushed past suggestions that there is any tension between him and Mohamed Salah after an awkward moment on the sidelines.
The Egyptian was substituted in the 61st minute of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Benfica in the Champions League as the Reds seek to progress to the semi-finals of the tournament.
While he has been the best player in the world this season, Salah’s form has dipped recently and with a trip to Manchester City on the cards this weekend, Klopp withdrew him, Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara with around half an hour of play to go.
It was a bold move from the manager but at the time, Liverpool were 2-1 up and controlling the game with relative comfort.
Goals from Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane had put them in the driving seat while a smart finish after neat control from Darwin Núñez gave the home side hope of a comeback.
Luis Diaz settled the game with an 87th-minute goal to nicely spice up the narrative on his return to Portugal.
Salah was below par.
It was yet another frustrating evening for the Egyptian but any suggestions that his recent dip in form means he doesn’t deserve the pay increase he’s seeking comes from those with short memories.
The no.11 has been sensational for Liverpool for the last five years with very few barren spells and with his recent international disappointments – losing the AFCON final and missing out on World Cup qualification – he deserves to be cut some slack.
Jurgen Klopp told the media after the game that the forward is being affected by “all the stories” as his contract renewal saga rumbles on but rubbished any claims that there is a rift in his relationship with Salah.
When the winger came off in the 61st minute it was predictably preluded by a disgruntled expression and a seemingly awkward exchange between player and manager ensued on the sideline.
Context and empathy are required here.
Salah has one goal in his last seven games for Liverpool which is an awful run by his standards but his frustration doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Klopp.
The manager said: “I did nothing different to what I do usually. If the game is kind of decided, you are a bit more with the players who come off.
“If the game is open, like it was, then you just give a clap and about all the rest, we can speak later.”
Continuing, Klopp noted the public and media attention surrounding Salah’s contract extension and specifically mentioned how “all the stories” are making things harder.
He added: “Each player in that situation wants to score, and obviously with all the stories around it’s clear that Mo wants to score as well, especially in this moment.
“But it’s all fine. It’s a tough period, both boys came back from Africa, it’s really not easy.
“[They had] massive pressure on both of their shoulders. Both had to sort it for their countries – the managers have their part in that as well, to put it on them, I think – and that now needs a bit of time to settle.
“That’s all, [it was an] important game for Mo and Sadio tonight.
“One could score, the other one unfortunately not, but everything will be fine.”
It’s not the most ideal scenario heading into the biggest game of the season as, ideally, Salah would be at the peak of his game but with a little bit of rest and a recovery swim at 2am, there’s no reason he can’t return to goalscoring form at the Etihad.