Salah is the ideal 'Defender'

Liverpool's defender Virgil van Dijk (far left) and fellow "defender" Mohamed Salah during training in midweek. Manager Jurgen Klopp said that "on the defensive side, (Salah) was outstanding in the last two games... That says everything about him, th
Liverpool's defender Virgil van Dijk (far left) and fellow "defender" Mohamed Salah during training in midweek. Manager Jurgen Klopp said that "on the defensive side, (Salah) was outstanding in the last two games... That says everything about him, that he is really ready to work for the team".PHOTO: REUTERS

Klopp backs forward, praises his defensive work despite fewer goals so far this term

LONDON • Jurgen Klopp has insisted there are no concerns over Mohamed Salah's early season form, praising the Liverpool forward's "perfect" defensive work in the recent wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur.

The Egypt international has yet to recapture the prolific form that yielded 44 goals last term, and while Salah has scored twice in his six appearances so far, he appears to be missing that extra gear.

But the Liverpool manager sarcastically shot down any criticism of Salah when it was put to him at the pre-match press conference ahead of today's Premier League home game with Southampton that Salah had scored three goals at the same stage last season .

"Wow, that's a crisis," the German said. "On the defensive side, he was outstanding in the last two games and it is so important in these games.

"That says everything about him, that he is really ready to work for the team.

"It is a completely normal situation for an offensive player that they have times when they don't score. But he is still a threat, has fantastic situations in both games and he is in a good shape.

"Finishing is something you can never take for granted. The most important thing is physically he is in a very good shape, which helps."

Salah has not scored in his last three outings and was substituted shortly after his error led to Kylian Mbappe equalising for PSG in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Yet Klopp remains unperturbed, given that it is still early days, with Liverpool flying high and looking to make it six league wins out of six to open their campaign - their best start since the 1990-91 season.

"At the end of the season, we will see how it was, not at the beginning. The start was good for the team and him as well," he added.

He also confirmed Roberto Firmino, whose eye injury meant he could only come off the bench in the PSG game, is fit to play against the Saints at Anfield, who will be hampered by the ineligibility of on-loan Liverpool forward Danny Ings.

Meanwhile, Saints old boy Virgil van Dijk has challenged Liverpool to use their blistering start as fuel to finally end their trophy drought.

Only three clubs in the Premier League era have opened a campaign with six consecutive victories - Newcastle in 1994, Manchester City two seasons ago and the Chelsea sides of 2005 and 2009.

Liverpool, who trail leaders Chelsea on goal difference, can join that list with a win over the Saints.

And van Dijk is convinced that the Reds are well-positioned to lift their first silverware since the 2012 League Cup and possibly their first league title in 29 years.

"It's a great time to be a Liverpool player, you want to play these clubs we are going to face," the defender said of their daunting run of fixtures comprising Chelsea (twice), Napoli and Manchester City before the October international break.

"You need to have ambitions, and with the size of this club, with the people around here and the history of the club, we want to try and win everything."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2018, with the headline 'Salah is the ideal 'Defender''. Print Edition | Subscribe