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Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane return to Merseyside this week ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League game against Watford on Saturday. Both have gone through a lot over the past few days – and for the second time in as many months they are experiencing contrasting emotions.
Once again it was Mane left celebrating after his penalty ensured a crucial and historic victory for his country on Tuesday. The Liverpool forward was the one to book Senegal’s place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar by finding the back of the net with his spot-kick – 51 days after the previous high of his international career.
Mane has enjoyed an unbelievably good few months in the colours of his country, following their maiden Africa Cup of Nations title with passage to their third World Cup. On both occasions it has been his Liverpool team-mate Salah on the receiving end of crushing defeats.
Salah did not even get to take a penalty in the AFCON final, with defeat already assured, but he did suffer the heartbreak of missing from 12 yards on Tuesday after lasers were aimed at his face. With Mane looking forward to the World Cup, Salah is now at his lowest ebb with Egypt.
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It is amid this context that the two stars now have to return to Kirkby and prepare to focus on Liverpool’s run-in, with a quadruple still a possibility for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Fortunately for Klopp and Liverpool fans, the duo have a strong friendship and a good working relationship. Precedent has been set for how to deal with the World Cup qualifying fall-out.
“Me and Mo Salah don’t even talk about it,” Mane told the Que Golazo Youtube channel after the AFCON final but before the two-legged play-off against Egypt. “Until now – you won’t believe me – but we haven’t talked about it, because I know he’s still disappointed for sure.
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“We have mentioned when I missed the penalty, he said: ‘why did you come to see the goalkeeper?’ and I said ‘no because you’ve been talking to him and I’m sure you will play mind-games, so I will play mind-games as well. I saw him talking and I’m sure he was not saying anything much so it was fine to just say it was mind-games and I want to be more fun than them, so I go ‘Mo, I will put it in the right side, tell him I will put it in the right side. We were talking about this yesterday and laughing about it, it was quite funny.”
It is unlikely that Mane and Salah will be sharing any funny stories from their most recent encounter on the pitch, given the bad blood which has dominated the fallout from the match. The Egyptian FA have submitted a complaint about Senegal fans throwing stones at the team bus, racially abusing their players and hurling objects at them as they left the pitch.
But while those scenes won’t be easy to forget for Salah, Klopp knows his star player will be switched on and ready for the busy period to come. Liverpool face a season-defining April, with Premier League games, an FA Cup semi-final and Champions League quarter-final all on the horizon. Salah and Mane, how they deal with their contrasting emotions and how they pick up their relationship on the pitch, will be key to Liverpool’s chances.
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