LONDON – Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah is capable of destroying any defence and deserves to win the season-ending player of the year award, team mate Virgil van Dijk has said.
Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Liverpool in the first leg of an all-English Champions League quarter-final clash today.
Salah is set to pose the biggest attacking threat to City, having already scored 37 goals in all competitions this season, including one in Liverpool’s 4-3 league victory over Pep Guardiola’s side in January.
When asked if Salah has the attributes to beat City’s well-drilled defensive line, Van Dijk said, “That’s what everyone knows. That’s how we feel as well.
“He’s that kind of player that you just need to be on your best. When he is 100 percent and in the zone then he can beat anyone. “There are ways to stop him but I’m not going to tell you because I don’t want our opponents to think about it.”
Salah is likely to jostle with City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne for the Professional Footballers’ Association Players’ Player of the Year award.
Van Dijk cannot vote for his teammate but said the team will continue to do everything possible on the pitch to boost Salah’s chances of claiming the individual honour.
“I think everyone in the dressing room are just normal guys. Nobody feels better than each other, everybody is working hard for each other to get the win,” the Dutch centreback added.
“That’s a very good thing to have in a team. Everyone knows our team spirit and without all of us Mo wouldn’t have scored his goals. Everyone needs to be giving 100 per cent and I think we do that.”
Meanwhile Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not about to change his team’s trademark style against City and believes he can make things “unpleasant” for Guardiola’s side.
City’s dominance in the Premier League has led many teams to try different methods to limit the effectiveness of Guardiola’s tactics and the skill of his players.
Liverpool, though, are the only team to have beaten City in the league this season (the thrilling 4-3 victory at Anfield in January) and Klopp suggests he will play in a similar style in the first leg today.
“The way we attack the opponent, the way we defend high is unpleasant (for our opponents). If we do that well they will have some difficulty coping with it,” the German told UEFA.com.
“It will be very exciting. There’s no guarantee this will work. In the end it’s the lads on the pitch who will decide the game,” he added.
Key to Liverpool’s approach is the attacking trio of in-form Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who all scored in the January victory over City but who are also central to the pressing of Guardiola’s defence.
One approach Klopp won’t be taking is simply trying to shut up shop. “It’ll be about doing more things right than the opponents, because you can’t simply defend against City and hope that they won’t score on the day,” the German said. “They’re just too good.”
Klopp’s “gegenpressing” style, honed at Borussia Dortmund, involves a rapid swarming of opponents’ territory when they lose the ball, and a high defence to limit space and make good use of high-energy attacking full backs.
Guardiola’s teams, including his former clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich, enjoy playing out from the back, working the ball swiftly through midfield and using space expertly.
The pressing from Liverpool’s forwards and midfielders tests the ability but Klopp says the two methods are more similar than many think.
“There’s no big difference, actually. It’s just that Pep has always had better teams than me. You can see that now with Manchester City - they have a lot more points than we do. However, that difference has never been as small as it is now. When we coached at Bayern and Dortmund respectively, that difference was really big,” he said.
While much of the credit for City’s success has been given to their manager, Klopp believes City, who are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League and can clinch the title with a win over Manchester United on Saturday, also owe much of their success to the quality of their players.
“Positioning is important but this is not witchcraft. When the players are in position they move every millisecond in order to be available. And when they are, that’s when the individual quality of the player becomes important,” he said.
“So they’re already well-positioned on the pitch, they are very well orientated and they can pass the ball into the next area. That’s what makes them extraordinary,” Klopp added.