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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool are not a team of divers

Manager leaps to defence of Salah who was involved in a penalty incident for the second Premier League game in a row on Saturday

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is brought down in the area by Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, right, at Anfield on Saturday. EPA
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is brought down in the area by Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, right, at Anfield on Saturday. EPA

Jurgen Klopp insisted that Mohamed Salah and his Liverpool teammates do not dive as, for the second time in a week, the Egyptian was accused of going down too easily to win a penalty.

Salah won and converted the spot kick for Liverpool’s fourth goal in Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal but, while replays showed that Sokratis Papastathopoulos had twice caught the back of the Footballer of the Year’s legs, the defender accused the scorer in the tunnel at half time.

“He went to Mo and was saying that he dived,” said Virgil van Dijk, who defused the situation by getting between the two players. “He was attacking him a bit, but I wanted to say he didn’t dive. Obviously everyone came around us and it looked like we were fighting or something but we weren’t.”

Salah was accused of diving after earning a penalty that Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez called “soft” on Boxing Day, although an English Football Association disciplinary panel took no action against him. Yet Klopp, who has watched programmes on British television where ex-referees assess decisions, feels they have vindicated Salah.

The German explained: “[Former Premier League referee] Dermot Gallagher said [after Newcastle], ‘penalty.’ His [defender Paul Dummett’s] arm was there. Do we need blood for a proper penalty? I think no.

“In that moment, if you don’t touch Mo and he makes the next step and shoots – and we know he’s pretty good at that … I haven’t seen it back [with Sokratis] and I have no clue about what happened but the ref really was close to it. We don’t have divers and that was not a dive. The other one is not a dive. The ref decides it. In the three and a half years, we have had more penalties not given when they were penalties and you think, ‘hmph, hmph, hmph.’”

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Dejan Lovren earned Liverpool’s second spot kick of the afternoon, and third in two games, when he was pushed by Sead Kolasinac, though they had scored three times before referee Michael Oliver awarded either. It completed their joint biggest win of the season and felt the most meaningful, both because of Arsenal’s status and of the sudden pressure of being favourites in the title race.

Yet if the scoreline was a throwback to 2014, when Arsenal also lost 5-1 at Anfield, Liverpool’s attitude felt altogether different. If they got carried away with the momentum of a surge towards glory then, the often emotional Klopp said he was calm on Saturday. “After the game in the dressing room what I said, it didn’t sound like we won the game,” he said. “Then at the end, ‘…and congratulations by the way, brilliant performance!’ It’s all good. But sport is a season. We really only celebrate things when the season is over.”

Klopp reiterated that Liverpool’s target at the start of the season was to qualify for the Uefa Champions League. They could dethrone the champions, who they visit on Thursday. Xherdan Shaqiri denied that an away win at the Etihad Stadium would end Manchester City’s defence of their crown.

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“For us, we don't go there to take Man City out of the race,” said the Switzerland international. But he warned that Liverpool’s new status means others will be looking to knock them off their perch at the division’s summit.

“If you are top of the table, everybody is coming after you and everybody wants to beat you,” Shaqiri said. “They’re going to come after us.”

It will be a test of their resolve, but Liverpool passed one in emphatic style on Saturday. “Pressure is everywhere in your life,” Shaqiri added. “Even in football, there is always pressure.”

Updated: December 31, 2018 08:46 AM

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