In Focus: Inconsistent Salah key to Reds' unlikely Real revival
Just like Liverpool, Mohamed Salah has endured a rollercoaster campaign.
The Reds have been brilliant and disastrous in equal measure this term, all while their Egyptian star has struggled to find the net on a regular basis despite moments of excellence.
It has been a different story in the Champions League though, with the 30-year-old boasting seven goals and two assists in just seven outings in 2022-23.
Jurgen Klopp’s men need another European miracle tonight as they head to Real Madrid trailing 5-2 from the home leg of their last 16 tie.
Ahead of that clash, we turn the spotlight on Salah’s pivotal role as Liverpool look to do the impossible.
Liverpool’s — and Salah’s — extraordinarily inconsistent campaign has been summed up perfectly by their two most recent performances.
The No11 scored two and assisted two more as the Reds humiliated third-placed Manchester United 7-0 at Anfield earlier this month, handing their fierce rivals the joint-heaviest defeat in their history.
Days later, they headed to Bournemouth full of confidence and Gary O'Neil's relegation strugglers were expected to prove no match having earned just one win in their previous 10 clashes.
But the visitors were turned over 1-0, with Salah blazing a second-half penalty wide in a moment which summed up another yet disappointing afternoon.
The ex-Roma ace had just one shot other than his missed spot-kick, lost four of his five duels and failed to fashion a single opportunity for one of his team-mates after being stifled by the Cherries backline.
It is a common theme for the Reds this term. When Salah is at his best, Liverpool look electric. When he is not, the Reds look blunt and bereft of attacking threat.
Of their 12 Premier League wins this season, Salah has scored or assisted in seven of them. Of their eight defeats, Salah has found the net in just two.
His brace against the Red Devils saw him overtake Robbie Fowler as Liverpool’s all-time Premier League top scorer but his ability to find the net regularly is seemingly on the wane.
Ex-Reds man John Aldridge believes the time has come for Klopp to scale down their dependence on the Egyptian King.
He told the Sunday People: "After his goals against United last Sunday, I was looking to Salah to lead the team for the rest of the season and start banging in two or three goals a week consistently.
"We all know how good Salah has been and still is, but he was dreadful yesterday and won’t need me to tell him that.
"There may be a debate over whether selling Salah this summer and using that money to reinvest in the team may be an option, but that idea can wait until the end of the season.
"Between now and then, Salah has to lead Liverpool as the senior striker — and he simply didn’t do that at Bournemouth."
While an overreliance on Salah may be something to address sooner rather than later, it is not so much of a problem when he is scoring at the regularity he has done in the Champions League this term.
The ex-Roma flier has netted in all but one of Liverpool’s seven European fixtures, totalling eight goals and a further two assists.
Only once has the forward scored more in the competition in one campaign — the 10 strikes he managed in 2017-18 in 13 games, on the way to reaching the final.
So often the man for the big occasion, it is no surprise that high-pressure Champions League nights are when we see the best of the 83-cap international.
Mountain to climb
It does not get much bigger than a knockout tie at the Bernabeu, albeit Liverpool’s hopes of ending their evening on a high tonight are slim.
A 5-2 dismantling in the first leg at Anfield, during which the Merseysiders went 2-0 up before collapsing, leaves them with a mountain to climb in the Spanish capital.
Though Los Blancos are in command of the tie, defender Eder Millitao is keen not to underestimate a Liverpool forward line led by Salah.
He said: "The night in Liverpool was one of the most historic in my sporting life — to win 5-2 there and score is a unique moment for any footballer.
"But Liverpool have a super squad and now we do not want to be surprised at home. Mo Salah has come into a good moment in attack.
"He is always dangerous and against us he is hyper-motivated. So until the end of this match, nothing has been decided."
Unpredictable is the key word to describe Liverpool this term but there is one thing that is easier to call.
If they are to have any hope of pulling off another European miracle tonight, you can be sure Salah will have played a key role.