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Mohamed Salah not the only Liverpool player on personal revenge mission vs Real Madrid

Liverpool’s build-up to the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris has been dominated by talk about Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian has made it plainly clear he wants “revenge” after going off injured when these two teams met in Kyiv four years ago. Real Madrid won 3-1 and the result has not been forgotten by Salah, who went off the pitch in tears.

But he is not the only Liverpool player with a point to prove at the Stade de France. In April 2021, an injury-depleted Liverpool headed to Real Madrid for the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final. Jurgen Klopp sprung a surprise by starting Naby Keita over the controlling Thiago Alcantara in midfield.

Klopp explained pre-match: “I couldn’t avoid Naby Keita anymore with his performances in training in the last two weeks. He should play good, that would be nice. He is in a really good moment and he brings special things in. Real kind of man-mark, so you need dribblers who can turn and make the next situation a big advantage. That is Naby’s job tonight.”

The decision didn’t work – at all. Keita lost the ball countless times and Thiago replaced him after just 42 minutes. Klopp admitted the decision was “tactical” but added: “Naby was not good in the game, but to be honest I could have made a few more changes in that moment.”

Keita’s Liverpool career looked like it might be over after that. He didn’t play another minute all season. It appeared the £52million’s Anfield career would go down as one that promised so much but ultimately delivered too little.

One year on – the Guinean is in a much better situation. Though earlier this season he was subbed off before the second half, again in Madrid, this time against Atletico Madrid, it has been a positive year for Keita overall. His tally of 39 appearances, with a 40th set to come in France, is the best he’s managed at Anfield. He’s still had knocks but less of them, and so he’s had greater rhythm, confidence and momentum.

Speaking earlier in May, Keita admitted there is still more to come from him: “I don’t believe we’ve seen the real Naby Keita just yet.” And Klopp declared he was “not surprised” by his “incredible” player’s comments because he himself “said the same”.

The German explained: “Interrupted because of injuries and stuff like this, he couldn’t get real rhythm. Now he’s in a completely different situation, probably the longest spell without an injury, to be honest.” But now he has to show again that he’s in a different situation, with what is his biggest game for the club yet. He was out injured for the final against Spurs three years ago.

Like Salah, Keita can get some personal revenge of sorts. The Real Madrid match last season was his lowest low in English football and he could be in the starting line-up again against the Spaniards, this time because Thiago is injured.

Keita is capable having a massive say on Saturday with his energy and bravery. He’ll likely be asked to press and frustrate the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos off the ball and on it he’ll be tasked with breaking the lines with his dribbling and producing the kind of passes that open the pitch up for Salah and Sadio Mane. Certainly he needs to play much, much better than in his last appearance against Real Madrid. It’s as big a game for Keita as it is for Salah.



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