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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Lovren encouraged that Salah will bring new 'qualities' to Liverpool

The Egyptian was on target in friendly draw at Wigan Athletic and has given his teammates and manager much to think about ahead of new Premier League season.

Mohamed Salah, left, scored in Liverpool's pre-season friendly with Wigan Athletic. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Mohamed Salah, left, scored in Liverpool's pre-season friendly with Wigan Athletic. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

It was the sort of run that Sadio Mane has almost copyrighted, between the left-back and the left-sided centre-back, using his pace to accelerate away from both and advance on goal.

The resulting shot flew into the side-netting, but it was an illustration of the merits of direct running. Liverpool were almost ahead after 40 seconds, their opponents unlocked by their first attack.

Except it was not Mane, but Mohamed Salah. Liverpool’s record signing opened his account by half-time of his unofficial debut with a tap-in after Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino combined.

But, tellingly, Jurgen Klopp first arrowed in on the £36 million (Dh7.4m) man’s opening-minute salvo in the friendly with League One side Wigan Athletic on Friday night. “A nice sprint,” the Liverpool manager said.

It was Mane-esque. The Senegalese was a revelation last season, scoring 13 times, but Liverpool failed to find the net six times when he was unavailable.

“Mane had his injury and we missed him,” reflected defender Dejan Lovren.

Salah suggested he could replicate Mane’s contribution and replace him in his absence, while posing the problem of how to accommodate both. A man who scored 19 times for Roma last year will be hard to omit.

“We saw [Salah] and we will see more of his qualities,” Lovren added. “I think he will be perfect in this system.”

It may take time. Klopp pointed out that the newcomer is yet to adjust to Liverpool’s unique style of play.

“He had no idea how to defend normally,” he explained. “He is used to a completely different way.”

And Liverpool remain idiosyncratic. Any suggestions the summer would produce a rethink were misguided. Their aim is to do the same, but better.

The first half at Wigan was notable for fast, fluid football, marked by interchanging of positions in Klopp’s preferred, narrow 4-3-3. Chances were created and spurned, meaning the final score was 1-1.

The second period, featuring a completely different Liverpool side, was described as “a little bit boring” by Klopp himself.

He used it to showcase his Plan B, with Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi as split, wide strikers and the other new signing Dominic Solanke at the head of a midfield diamond.

They gelled less well, though as only Lovren, James Milner and Jordan Henderson of those then on the pitch seem to figure in Klopp’s strongest side, it may matter less.

Yet the struggles of the squad players were a theme last season. Others recurred: their first goal conceded in pre-season came from a set-piece they failed to clear. The second half brought the sight of Loris Karius spilling a free kick. These are familiar frailties.

A perennial question if Klopp has too much faith in the players at his disposal. Unlike some of his predecessors, he eschews secondary transfer targets, rather than scouring shortlists in desperation and compromising with costly consequences.

Another he really wants, Hull City’s Andrew Robertson, should arrive soon, providing a specialist left-back to challenge Milner while Lucas Leiva will finally leave, with Lazio his destination.

Liverpool’s left-back signings over the past decade have rarely succeeded but one omen for Robertson is good.

Klopp’s recruits have struck in their friendly bows, Solanke at Tranmere Rovers and Salah at Wigan.

In the Egyptian’s case, anyway, it felt an enticing example of things to come.