London (AFP) – “We have a score to settle,” Mohamed Salah posted on social media moments after Real Madrid set up a re-match with Liverpool in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Salah’s first appearance in European club football’s showpiece game came to an agonisingly premature end in Kyiv four years ago.
The Egypt forward made a tearful first-half exit after suffering a shoulder injury in a challenge with Real defender Sergio Ramos, who was accused of cynically slamming his opponent into the turf.
Madrid went on to win 3-1 and Salah has never been able to shake the bitter memories of that night.
“That was the worst moment in my career,” the 29-year-old said at Liverpool’s pre-match media day this week. “I was really, really down in that time.
“I was like: ‘We cannot lose this way.’ I never felt that feeling before in football, especially the first Champions League (final) for all of us.”
Salah made amends 12 months later, scoring a penalty as Liverpool beat Tottenham to be crowned European champions for the sixth time.
But even though Ramos has since moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Salah would dearly love to make Real pay when they meet again at the Stade de France this weekend.
“I think it is revenge time,” Salah said as he picked up his award as the Football Writers’ Association player of the year earlier this month.
While Salah has retaliation on his mind, he travels to Paris besieged by concerns over his form, his fitness and even his long-term future at Liverpool.
His 23rd goal of the Premier League season against Wolves on Sunday meant he finished as the joint top-scorer in the competition alongside Tottenham’s Son Heung-min.
It is the third time he has topped the charts and he added lustre to his season by also finishing as the top provider of assists.
Yet the stunning early-season form that secured Salah the writers’ honour has deserted him in recent months.
His 31st club goal of the campaign as Liverpool narrowly lost out to Manchester City in the Premier League title race on Sunday was just his third in his past 17 games for club and country.
– Exhaustion –
That run includes a defeat on penalties against teammate Sadio Mane’s Senegal in a World Cup play-off, a repeat of the result in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
The demands of an exhausting season are beginning to show even before the final in Paris, for a player who is rarely injured.
Salah was forced off early in Liverpool’s FA Cup final victory over Chelsea and did not start either of their final two league games to ensure he was fit to face Madrid.
The caution shown by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose side were chasing an unprecedented quadruple until they were pipped to the league title by City, is understandable.
In five seasons since returning to England Salah has scored 156 goals, playing a huge role in Liverpool’s first Premier League title for 30 years in 2020, as well as their runs to three Champions League finals.
One persistent cloud on the horizon is that his contract expires at the end of next season and negotiations have dragged on, with reports that he wants to be the Premier League’s highest-paid player.
Salah confirmed this week that he would at least see out the final year of his deal, but refused to commit his longer-term future to the Reds.
Despite his history with Madrid, Real could now prove the most likely destination should he choose to leave Anfield.
Los Blancos are in need of a superstar signing to soften the blow of being turned down by Kylian Mbappe, who has decided to remain at PSG.
Liverpool boast impressive attacking riches but a fit and firing Salah would be a huge weapon against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real — and the player himself has clearly not lost confidence.
“If you compare me with any player in my position, not only in my team but in the world, you will find that I am the best,” he told BeIn Sports.
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