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Preview: Egypt’s Mo Salah eyeing glory as Liverpool meet Real in Champions League final

Ahram Online , Reuters , Saturday 26 May 2018
Salah
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg - Manchester City vs Liverpool - Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain - April 10, 2018 Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their first goal with Virgil van Dijk (REUTERS)
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Mo Salah will be looking to cap his remarkable season with Liverpool in the best possible way and itch his name in the European Champions League hall of fame when his side meet Real Madrid in a mouthwatering final in Kiev on Saturday.

The Egyptian broke the Premier League scoring record for a 38-game season with 32 league goals this campaign and has also netted 10 times in the Champions League, enjoying a dream first season with Liverpool after joining from AS Roma last summer.

He won a host of individual prizes, including three Premier League’s best player awards given by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the Football Writers’ Association and the Premier League.

Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp said Salah will be at peak fitness for Saturday's final regardless of whether or not he is observing the fasting rules of Ramadan.

The question of whether devout Muslim Salah has chosen to fast in the build-up to the encounter with Real Madrid has attracted a lot of media interest.

Liverpool's physiotherapist Ruben Pons told Spanish radio station Onda Cero that the Egypt forward had been observing Ramadan during the team's recent training camp in Marbella but had chosen to interrupt his fasting three days before the final.

"As I understand it religion is a private matter so I have nothing to say about that but all is fine, you will see him in training, he is full of power, you need to be a day before the final," Klopp told a news conference.

The Ramadan fast is a time when Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours. Athletes are allowed to defer their fasts until a later date, but many Muslim sportsmen and women from cultures or countries where not fasting is frowned upon may well honour the holy month.

Salah's dominant displays in Europe have sparked debate over whether the Liverpool striker could break the decade-long stranglehold on the Ballon d'Or award of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Klopp, however, had little enthusiasm for adding to the discussion.

"It's not important, no manager is interested in that," he said.

"Messi and Ronaldo deserve all the praise they have had in the past. Now they are in their 30s and still at a great level. We will see in next years if Mo can go there."

Free-flowing football

Liverpool are rather more than cocky upstarts out to take a swipe at Real and it will be a surprise if Klopp does not keep faith with the free-flowing brand of football that has made them the competition's leading scorers with 40 goals.

Porto, Manchester City and AS Roma were all blown away in the knockout stages with stunning first-leg performances that delivered 13 goals, most from their frontline trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah, the Egyptian maestro whose 44 goals have spearheaded their season.

Liverpool tend to score in bursts, often in the first half, and if they seize the initiative on Saturday Real may struggle to play catch up against a team never so dangerous as when they defend.

But the English side are unlikely to have it their own way against the serial winners from Spain.

Another triumph would make Real the fourth team to claim three successive European crowns – and the only ones to do it twice – while Cristiano Ronaldo is hoping to become the first player in the Champions League era to win five titles, four with Real.

Record scorer

Already the tournament's record scorer, the five-times Ballon d'Or winner netted in every Champions League game this season before twice missing out in the 4-3 semi-final aggregate triumph over Bayern Munich when he struggled to assert himself.

While some viewed that as a blip, Graeme Souness, another of Liverpool's European Cup winners, saw it as a sign of decline and suggested that Klopp should not construct a gameplan around a fading 33-year-old.

"He spends a lot of time on his bum now, complaining he's been fouled, and plays the width of the box," Souness wrote in the Sunday Times. "He's still capable of great things but, like Real, nowhere near where he was even 12 months ago."

Ronaldo's double in Real's quarter-final win over Juventus suggests Liverpool would do well not to write him off just yet and their promising but inexperienced fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will have to be at their sharpest to deal with his threat and that of Gareth Bale if he starts.

Marcelo, Real's marauding left back, could prove equally key in a game where goals appear guaranteed.

So far this season Liverpool have never failed to impose themselves in Europe and their early defensive frailties which saw them squander a three-goal lead against Sevilla in the group stage appear to have been rectified by a new goalkeeper, Loris Karius, and the calming presence of the world's most expensive defender, Virgil van Dijk.

Whether they will be sufficient to withstand the force of Europe's most successful but ageing team is one of Saturday's most intriguing sub-plots, as is Klopp's ability to finally emerge a winner after five successive defeats in finals.

In reaching this far, Liverpool have overcome a series crippling injuries, the mid-season departure of star midfielder Philippe Coutinho and the still unexplained absence of Klopp's assistant Zeljko Buvac.

To negotiate all that and end up with the biggest prize of all would assure them a place in Anfield's bulging hall of fame. You can almost feel Klopp urging them on.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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