Jurgen Klopp did not want to fully explain Sadio Mane’s angry Turf Moor outburst in either his television interviews or post-match press conference but a little later, his smile revealed all. The Liverpool manager was innocently asked whether Mohamed Salah could be a little less selfish in front of goal. His big white grin gave the game away.
Klopp had already confirmed that Mane was not simply unhappy because he had been substituted. Now, this knowing smile suggested that Salah’s failure to pass on one late Liverpool attack was indeed the reason behind Mane’s strop. It was not the first time that day that Salah had opted to shoot with a teammate in a better position, either.
Roberto Firmino arguably had an even greater cause for complaint and Klopp had certainly felt so. When Salah fired tamely into Nick Pope’s arms rather than find Firmino in space inside the box, an exasperated Klopp berated him from the other side of the pitch. Salah’s excuse was that he had not heard Firmino, judging by how he waved a cupped hand to his ear in response.
This is not a new phenomenon when it comes to Klopp’s front three and particularly not with Salah and Mane, though the shoe has previously been on the other foot.
Around this time last year, an official Liverpool supporters’ club in Egypt issued an apology after Mane’s Instagram comments were flooded with abuse from Salah’s acolytes. The previous December, Mane was roundly criticised for not squaring to Salah in a Merseyside derby at Anfield and instead firing well wide.
That is not to say Mane does not have a case, though. Since Salah’s arrival, the pair have passed to each other roughly the same number of times, but whereas Mane has created 43 chances for Salah, he has received just 25 in return. This was not his first show of discontent either. Mane appeared particularly annoyed with one wayward Salah shot in the 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town in late April.
But even if Klopp had appeared unhappy with Salah at times on Saturday, he was much more philosophical on his player's apparent reluctance to pass afterwards. “I could describe five or six situations where everyone thought: ‘Pass it, pass it, pass it,’ and then he scored,” he argued. “So, that is the freedom of the player. The boys have to make these decisions: pass the ball, don’t pass the ball.
“We can make these mistakes,” he added. “You can lose the ball and mis-kick the ball or sometimes you cannot see your teammate. It is not that you ignore him. Sometimes to us it looks like you must see him but you don’t. It is not a big challenge, but of course with a striker always you can have this. What you do depends on the situation.”
And then, for all the hysteria around this subject of his 'selfishness', Salah was in fact Liverpool’s greatest creative force against Burnley. Only Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold made more passes in the final third at Turf Moor. No Liverpool player made a greater percentage of their passes in that area. No player fashioned more chances than Salah’s four. And if you want a greater sample size than one game, Salah's total of 68 chances created last season was more than any other member of Klopp’s squad.
Tensions like those seen on Saturday are not always evidence of disharmony within the ranks. Sometimes, they are the cost of bringing a group of single-minded and competitive attacking players together. Klopp may have been reluctant to share all the details of the spat with reporters, but his lack of concern was still genuine. As long as they keep performing and winning, he will be happy.
“In one week, I don’t think I will talk about it again,” the Liverpool manager suggested with a smile on Saturday night. He will more than likely be proved right about that.
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