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Analysing Mohamed Salah’s impressive debut for Liverpool in disappointing draw with Watford

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Salah

There were few positives for Liverpool to take from the past week. Philippe Coutinho’s transfer request and a disappointing draw against Watford are far from the start that Reds fans will have been hoping for. Mohamed Salah finally provided a positive on Saturday afternoon.

The first half of the tie was a poor one all round for Jurgen Klopp’s side, Salah included. Gone was the fluidity and drive that Salah had shown in pre-season. His free flowing movement interlinking with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino was replaced by a player seemingly affected by nerves.

The Egyptian stuck to the right hand side on the wing, refusing to mix with the front three. When on the ball, he looked panicked and rushed. One opportunity did come his way when his pressing style worked perfectly to win the ball on the edge of the box, but his finish was high and wide, posing no danger to the Hornets.

In the second half, Salah emerged a different player entirely. The drive, pace and fluidity returned. Only minutes in, his darting run sliced open the Watford defence and forced Heurelho Gomes to take him down inside the penalty area to win a penalty, which Roberto Firmino duly converted.

Minutes later, his work rate earned him his first Liverpool goal. Whilst Sadio Mane tired and found himself behind play on the left, Firmino broke through and lobbed Gomes. His shot was heading wide until Salah raced in at the far post and got enough on the ball to send it into the back of the net and give his side the lead.

There is still room for improvement for the forward. He may have boasted the best pass accuracy ratio at 77.8%, but he needs to find himself more involved. Whilst Mane and Firmino both drifted around and got themselves involved when play was deeper, Salah didn’t budge. Whilst his partners up-front managed 29 and 30 passes respectively, Salah made just 18.

The other key area for Salah to work on if he is to be a success was his finishing. Of five shots, only his goal found the target. Salah frequently had opportunities to put the game to bed, finding space in the box, but he must start challenging the goalkeeper if he is to be a devastating threat.

It was a promising debut from the former Chelsea man, but it is clear that there is more to come from him. If Philippe Coutinho does leave the club, then he may see the pressure to produce take a step up.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Liverpool

Liverpool news round-up: Fitness latest; Fekir move planned; midfielder deal imminent

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Photo: Getty Images.

Milner and Can ready for Saturday

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has revealed that midfield duo James Milner and Emre Can will be fit to face Real Madrid in Saturday’s Champions League final in Kiev.

“Millie was clear [he would be fit] and Emre is a surprise,” Klopp told the club’s official website.

“He told me he would come back, try this and that and then we would talk to people. We thought it would be difficult, but he came back and from the first day it was like, ‘OK, that looks good, how do you feel?’ ‘Very good’ and then the next day ‘very good’ again.

“Now he trains completely normal. He’s a nice option and that’s why he is with us.”

Milner missed the final Premier League game of the season with a muscle strain whilst Can has been out since March with a back problem.

(Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

Summer move planned for Fekir

The Telegraph say that Liverpool are planning to up the ante in their move for Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir after the Champions League final with the club confident of getting a deal done for a fee in the region of £60 million.

The 24-year-old is seen as a natural replacement for Philippe Coutinho, who Jurgen Klopp is yet to replace since he departed for Barcelona in January, and is one of the club’s top targets for the summer transfer window.

Can deal imminent

Whilst a transfer saga surrounding Fekir may only just be beginning, one could be coming to an end for midfielder Emre Can. His contract will come to an end this summer and he is now expected to join Juventus on a free transfer with an announcement looking to be closing in.

Gazzetta dello Sport report that Juventus chief executive Giuseppe Marotta expects the deal to be done “within 10 days” as the 24-year-old waits for Liverpool to close their season against Real Madrid in Kiev.

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Liverpool

Dejan Lovren epitomises Liverpool’s progression since previous Real Madrid meeting

Max Cohen

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Dejan Lovren
Photo: Getty Images

The last time Liverpool played Real Madrid in the Champions League, the approaches of the two clubs could not have been more different.

The clubs played twice in the 2014 group stage, with Los Blancos smashing Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield and winning 1-0 at the Bernabeu.

Dejan Lovren was particularly culpable for the Reds’ first loss at home, as he was torn to shreds by the combination of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

Nonetheless, much has changed at Liverpool since those weak performances more than three years ago, with centre-back Dejan Lovren representing the Reds’ progression from continental lightweights to European Cup finalists.

In an interview this week with The Guardian, the Croatian defender claimed that the current Liverpool side is unrecognisable from the team that surrendered to Real Madrid in their 2014/15 Champions League campaign.

“The only thing that is similar is the name, Liverpool,” Lovren told the Guardian. “I am so much more confident in the team now than I was then. I feel the team is ready to battle against every team in the world.”

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

These confident proclamations mark a fitting response from a player who has come a long way since he first arrived at Anfield.

Lovren has come under immense criticism for his performances at Liverpool, lambasted for a lack of pace, propensity for lapses in concentration, and poor decision making.

And even as recently as October, the Croatian was horribly found out during an abysmal first half performance against Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet, Lovren admirably picked himself up from past disappointment and has become an integral piece of Jurgen Klopp’s defence alongside Virgil van Dijk.

The 28-year-old has played every single minute of the knockout stages in Liverpool’s Champions League campaign, and will surely play a massive role in stifling Real Madrid’s high-octane attack in Kiev.

Dejan Lovren will be hoping for a far different response from Liverpool than their performance some three years ago, and his personal improvement will determine the Reds’ success on Saturday.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa would be the perfect platform for Harry Wilson if they are promoted

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa are 90 minutes of football away from a return to the Premier League, and they are already looking at potential signings for next season if they are promoted.

The Midlands side face Fulham at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship play-off final with a place in the top flight up for grabs. And, should Villa bring an end to two years outside of the promised lands of the Premier League, they will be determined to recruit properly to prepare themselves for next season.

According to the Scottish SunLiverpool are looking for a loan fee of £250,000 to snag impressive academy prospect, Harry Wilson, in a deal that would also see financial penalties issued should he not get the required amount of first-team action.

Wilson has been one of the brightest prospects in the Reds academy for many years and his recent form in the Championship is highlighting why there is such a buzz for this talented youngster and why the Villains should swoop.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Since departing for a temporary move to Hull in the January window, the 21-year-old has been in fine form, netting seven goals in 13 appearances to help Nigel Adkins’ side avoid the drop.

The youngster also made his international debut in his first start for Wales under new boss Ryan Giggs and netted a maiden goal for his country against China.

Despite the winger’s talents, it seems impossible to think that Wilson could break into Liverpool’s irreplaceable ‘fab three’ which means another loan move would be the best option for his development, and Villa’s potential promotion to the Premier League could set up the perfect platform in the top-flight for the youngster.

Loan deals are never ideal, permanent signings are what supporters want to see, but this is is a move that could be a benefit for both parties and something Steve Bruce should strongly consider.

The Villains likely have enough quality at their disposal to compete strongly in the Championship again next season, if they don’t win their play-off, Wilson could give them serious depth.

The winger is an elegant and languid play maker in the mould of Jack Grealish, and the combination of the two could get fans very excited for next season.

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