Liverpool reaping the rewards of a much improved Mohamed Salah, says John Barnes

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Salah enjoyed a stunning 2017/18 - breaking the scoring record for a 38-game Premier League season.

Mohamed Salah may not quite be hitting the dizzying individual heights of last season, but Jurgen Klopp is turning him into a more well-rounded player and Liverpool are reaping the rewards.

That is the opinion of former Reds star John Barnes, who claims Salah is actually enjoying a better campaign this year than his stellar season of 12 months ago – one in which he scored 32 league goals in 36 games to break the record for most in a 38-game league season.

It was a campaign in which Salah’s stupendous goal-scoring exploits fired Liverpool into the Champions League final – where they eventually lost 3-1 to Real Madrid.

But Barnes insists he’d rather see his old club fighting tooth and nail with “one of the best teams in premier League history” in Manchester City for the English top-flight title instead of finishing a mammoth 25 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s dominant champions like they did a year ago.

Salah has, unfathomably, come in for stinging criticism from outside Anfield this season for falling short of last term’s, admittedly stunning, tally.

This despite the fact he is still joint top scorer in the Premier League this season with 19 goals – alongside City’s scintillating Sergio Aguero – while he has seven assists, only three shy of 2017/18.

His lesser impact is down to a mix of Salah working harder defensively, shouldering a bigger creative burden and working harder defensively as Liverpool have married last season’s style with substance this term.

Virgil van Dijk's addition has solidified the Reds.

Virgil van Dijk’s addition has solidified the Reds.

“He’s had a better season this year,” said Barnes, who spent a decade at Anfield, speaking exclusively to Sport360 in Dubai.

“The team is top of the league whereas last year he was top scorer in a team that finished fourth. It doesn’t matter if he scores 40 goals. Would you rather Salah do that and finish fifth or Salah score 20 goals and the team finish first?

“The whole idea he’s having a worse season is ridiculous, I think he’s having a better season. Obviously, the team plays differently now. He’s helped the team do better while still being one of the main players.”

Salah was always fighting a losing battle to match such mesmeric standards he set 12 months ago – a campaign in which he netted an unbelievable 44 goals in 52 games in all competitions.

He surpassed the feats of former Liverpool hotshot Luis Suarez and ex-Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo who each scored 31 league goals in 2013/14 and 2007/08 respectively.

And yet, the 26-year-old has still been dazzling. Whether by choice or the design of his coach, the focus has fallen on team-mates like Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk, as well as the collective.

But it is a tactic that was necessary if Klopp – without a trophy in three-and-a-half years as Reds’ boss – is to end the club’s 29-year top-flight league title drought.

Barnes, who was part of the last Liverpool side to lift a league championship with Liverpool, in 1989/90, knows Klopp is focused on the bigger picture, while also making Salah a better player overall.

Asked if Klopp’s shift this season to improve both player and team – bringing in Dutch defender Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson to make them difficult to score against in addition to playing breathtaking, attacking football, Barnes said: “Absolutely.

“That’s where Chelsea have fallen down. It’s all about Eden Hazard. He’s been doing fantastically well but no-one else on the team has.

“If Hazard didn’t dribble as much and passed more you’d see more of the other players and the team doing better. I’m not a fan of individuals doing better than the team.

“Last year we were conceding a lot of goals. Now we’re defending more and playing more consistently as a team when we haven’t got the ball.

“Salah’s probably working harder defensively, he’s passing the ball more now, and other players are scoring which means he’ll score less. We had a similar situation with (Robbie) Fowler and (Stan) Collymore where they were scoring a lot of goals.

“If somebody scores goals, somebody else will score less. The fact that Mane, (Roberto) Firmino and midfield players are scoring means Salah will score less. It means the team’s playing better.”

As for the Messiah-like moulding of last season’s magician, Klopp is coaxing the best out of his team too. One that Barnes believes is on the cusp of something special.

Barnes won two league titles with Liverpool - his last, in 1989/90, was the last time the club were kings of England.

Barnes won two league titles with Liverpool – his last, in 1989/90, was the last time the club were kings of England.

Who knows what would have happened had the five-time winners not lost talisman Salah to a first-half injury in controversial circumstances in Kiev last May – but Barnes, like Klopp, is eyeing the bigger picture.

“I think Liverpool could be on cusp of something special, absolutely,” added Barnes, who will take part in the DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series which gets under way with the DHL Open at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club on May 2.

“Would I rather get to the Champions League final last year and finish 25 points off the top of the league, or finish second, one point off the top and not won a trophy? I’d much rather be one point off the top because that shows you the team you are week in, week out.

“There’s no point getting to the Champions League final but finishing fourth or fifth, 20 points off the top. That’s not a good team. That shows you can be lucky to get to the Champions League final whereas to do what you do in the league shows you the team you really are.

“A lot of fans talk about not winning anything (this year) and what if we lose out. It will be a disappointment but think about what we’ve done, having lost one game all year.

“We’re up against one of the best teams in premier League history. We can’t control what Man City have done, we can only control what we’ve done and we’ve been excellent.”

*To enter the DHL Open or any DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series event or to attend any of the evening events, email: [email protected]

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Former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique given all-clear following brain tumour

Sport360 staff 16/04/2019
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Ex-Liverpool and Newcastle defender Jose Enrique announced that he has been given the all-clear after a rare brain tumour.

The Spaniard sustained several injuries in the twilight of his career, forcing him to retire at the age of 33 in September 2017. But he later revealed that he was also diagnosed with a life-threatening tumour in his brain.

After several radiotherapy sessions and a lengthy recovery process, Enrique was finally given the all-clear. The former defender took to social media to express his happiness.

“Hello guys, I just have some wonderful news today,” Enrique told his social media followers.

“I just got back the report from the MRI I had just a week and a half ago.

“I just wanted to let you know, because the support from all of you has been amazing, that it’s all clear, all perfect. Obviously when I received the news, me and Amy were together and even the dog, I think, understood it as well – and we’re so happy about it.

“I can look forward now, not back anymore and just keep fighting. So it’s all clear and perfect. Thank you, guys.”

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John Barnes insists season is a success, even if Liverpool fail to win a trophy

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John Barnes has insisted that whatever happens in the remaining weeks of the campaign it has been a successful season for Liverpool, even if they fail to win a trophy.

The Reds are right in the Premier League title race with Manchester City, as well as among the favourites to win the Champions League – they hold a 2-0 first leg advantage over Porto in their quarter-final tie.

They banished painful memories by defeating Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scoring the goals. The game fell almost five years to the day a costly error from talismanic captain Steven Gerrard saw the Blues win 2-0 on the same ground, a result that derailed Liverpool’s 2013/14 Premier League title bid.

The Reds’ wait for a top-flight English league title has stretched into a 29th year, but iconic former player Barnes – a member of the squad that last lifted the English top-flight league title in 1989/90 – says that the club can be proud, whatever happens.

“It’s been a fantastic season for Liverpool,” said 55-year-old Barnes, talking exclusively to Sport360 ahead of taking part in the DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series which gets under way with the DHL Open at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club on May 2.

“If we win all our games and they (City) win all their games they’ll have won the league and we’ll come second with 97 points, having lost one game all season. No-one can tell me that’s not a good season.

“But, winning trophies is what it’s all about. Everyone says how the Premier League is and how teams are always beating each other, but we’ve only lost one game.”

Liverpool FC v Manchester United - Premier League

The Chelsea win sent Liverpool back to the top of the table, a point ahead of title rivals City, with the champions having a game in hand.

If both teams win all their remaining games, Liverpool would finish second on 97 – a total that would have been good enough to win the title in every previous Premier League season bar last term.

The 85 points they currently hold would have been enough to win the league in nine of the 26 total Premier League seasons.

“No matter how it finishes, we already have enough points to have won the league in nine of last 10 years. You can’t ask anymore,” said Jamaican-born Barnes, who made 403 appearances for Liverpool in a decade-long spell.

“We’re in the semis of the Champions League too so all you can ask is for your team to be consistent in every game they play.

“We’ve won the majority of games, beat the teams we should beat and it’s been a great season. We can’t control what Man City have done, we can only control what we’ve done and we’ve been excellent.”

James Milner is the only player in the Liverpool squad to be in possession of a Premier League winners’ medal – he won two with City in 2011/12 and 2013/14.

But Liverpool players’ collective lack of experience – just like the perceived psychological weight of the Chelsea game both five years ago and on Saturday – has been dismissed by Barnes as representing something that puts the Reds at a disadvantage.

“Until Man City won the league seven season ago, they’d never won it either so the whole concept means nothing,” added Barnes.

John Barnes played for the Anfield club for 10 years and was part of the last Liverpool team to win the English league title.

John Barnes played for the Anfield club for 10 years and was part of the last Liverpool team to win the English league title.

“You have to look at the team that’s playing, look at the manager, the confidence in and around the club to win games. We’re not playing the game next week to win the league, we’re playing to win that match, and then the next match.

“If you do that you’ll win matches.

“Jurgen Klopp is the most important person at the club, building confidence in the team. People talked this week of the Chelsea game and the Steven Gerrard slip. Jurgen Klopp wasn’t here then, these players weren’t here then so it doesn’t affect them.

“If fans get nervous it won’t affect the players because Klopp is so strong-minded and strong-willed, and those players follow his instructions to the letter, so if he shows no signs of cracking, the players won’t, even if the fans get nervy.

“Chelsea was a nervy game, the first half we didn’t play so well and Chelsea had a few opportunities. But we had the belief and went on to win. The problem is Man City can also do that.”

*To enter the DHL Open or any DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series event or to attend any of the evening events, email: [email protected]

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