Liverpool are set to kick off a match that could define their season as they take on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knowing a win all but guarantees advancement to the knockout rounds while a loss could just about rule them out.
And while in Neymar their opponents have the most expensive player in the world playing wide in their attack, in Mohamed Salah the Reds might just have the best attacker of 2018—and over the past month he’s rediscovered his very best form.
“Since before the last international break it was completely obvious,” manager Jürgen Klopp said ahead of the match. “It clicked again. He’s there. The body is back to 100%, his physical things—not about the goalscoring, just the overall performance.”
The scoring has been there, too. Since the 20th of October, Liverpool have played seven times in and Salah has scored six goals and added two assists—compared to the first ten matches of the season when he scored three and added two helpers.
In part, his improved return—and his improving overall form—has simply been about fully recovering, physically, from a long and tiring season capped with a serious injury and then the World Cup. But, Klopp says, it’s also been about the mental side of things.
As Salah’s star has risen for club and country, there has been increasing pressure placed on the talented Egyptian to perform, and as impressive as scoring 44 goals for Liverpool last season was it left a daunting question: what comes next?
“For the first time in his life it was clear that after scoring more than 40 goals, how do we deal with that?” Klopp added. “You cannot score 40 goals in the first three games and is it even important to score 40 goals again?
“Of course not, [but] do we talk about it or not? Do we leave it? Of all the teams, we had a longest season with Real Madrid. We both had a season two weeks longer than all the other teams. After that they all went to a very long World Cup.
“He had no problem with the shoulder anymore, it was not that it hurt, but being healthy does not mean you are 100 per cent. He then had two to three weeks off. That is actually nothing. Then the pre-season starts again.
“So that is a time factor. Human beings need it. We don’t give them time. The season starts. Be ready. Even Mo Salah is a human being and he needed time, but not for one second was he in doubt and I was not in doubt. Nobody here was in doubt.”