Mohamed Salah has faced Chelsea five times in his career already (four with Basel, one with Liverpool). He’s scored in all but one of those games. And while he was on the winning side only twice, he’s never been quite as good, nor has his team been quite as good, as he and Liverpool have been this season. On Sunday, he returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since José Mourinho did not sell him in 2015.
In the Reds’ first meeting with the Blues back in late November, Salah staked Liverpool to a 1-0 lead at Anfield only to see two points float away when Willian chipped Mignolet five minutes from time. A similar result at Stamford Bridge on Sunday would be enough for Liverpool to all but confirm a top four finish. So even if their main focus, not to mention efforts and motivations, may be on the Champions League final, they will certainly not give in easily.
Jürgen Klopp may be a bit concerned about their injuries and fitness levels, but Salah is fully expected to play and run riot as usual. The task of containing him — you can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him! — will fall to Alonso (or Emerson?) and Antonio Rüdiger, the latter two his former AS Roma teammates. Neither played in that first meeting as Emerson wasn’t yet a Chelsea player while back then, on matchday 13, Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen were the preferred defensive partners to Azpilicueta.
Rüdiger has now firmly established himself as the second-most used center back in the team after Azpi, and he’s ready to run and run hard and run fast to help Chelsea to a crucial three points.
“If I play, it will be a direct duel against Salah. The good thing is, I’m not slow!”
“He’s the most polite guy I have ever met in football. He’s a fantastic person. Of course you are always a bit surprised but I know his ability, his potential and I knew he would be good for Liverpool.”
-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Football Focus via Goal
What’s perhaps even more impressive about Salah’s 43 goals in 49 games is that he’s scored them in 33 appearances. So not only is he scoring a lot, he’s scoring consistently. His longest scoreless streak in the Premier League this season is two games, back in October. If Rüdiger does well, he might just force Salah to match that, since he failed to score last weekend against Stoke in a rare Liverpool shutout as well. Of course, Salah was also kept off the scoresheet midweek against Roma in the Champions League semifinal, so he’s “due”.
And that’s before we get to the rest of Liverpool’s scintillating front three.
29 - Mo Salah (10), Roberto Firmino (10) and Sadio Mane (9) are now the highest scoring trio for a club in a single #UCL campaign, overtaking Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema at Real Madrid in 2013-14 (28). Ménage.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 2, 2018
We must suffer, as Conte likes to say. Get ready!