As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer

As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer
Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah reacts during the UEFA Champions League quarter final match against SL Benfica at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2022

As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer

As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer
  • “Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked out loud, “who is better than him?”
  • Jota appears to be Liverpool’s first-choice center forward now

DUBAI: It was an open-and-shut case for many, including his manager.
Mohamed Salah was, it was declared on an almost weekly basis, the best soccer player in the world for the first half of this season, demonstrating the kind of elite-level scoring form only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and more recently Robert Lewandowski have been able to produce this century.
It wasn’t just the volume of goals — 22 in his first 23 matches — that he was putting away for Liverpool. It was the sheer quality of them that took one’s breath away.
None more so than the weaving solo effort he conjured up against Manchester City at Anfield in October, midway through a run of 10 straight games when he scored, that surely will go down as the Premier League’s goal of the season.
“Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked out loud, “who is better than him?”
Fast forward six months and Salah is, in relative terms, in a rut. Indeed, heading into a seismic return match against City on Sunday that could yet determine the destination of the title, there’s an argument to say he might not even be Klopp’s go-to striker.
There are potentially a whole host of reasons why Salah is going through his worst scoring run this season, with no goals in five games in all competitions and no open-play goals in six weeks.
Is he tired? He’s already played 47 games this season, after all.
Are painful losses for Egypt lingering? First there was the penalty-shootout loss to Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane’s Senegal in the African Cup of Nations final in February, then a loss — also via a shootout — to the same opponent in a World Cup playoff last month.
Does it have anything to do with his current contract standoff with Liverpool? That would be unlikely.
Maybe it’s simply the vagaries of form and happenstance. Because he’s still piling up the chances, just not converting them.
Whatever it is, this is not the Salah of six months ago. He was substituted midway through the second half in each of Liverpool’s last two games after, by his high standards, fairly underwhelming performances.
“Sometimes he could decide in a better way, no doubt about that, pass the ball quicker and all these things,” Klopp said this week. “But it’s a tough period for Sadio (Mane) and Mo, with the Africa Cup and coming back being immediately available for us again with all the games.
“It’s completely normal in a season that you have these little (ups and downs).”
Will Klopp drop Salah against City on Sunday? He’d be a brave man to do that to the Premier League’s top scorer. But it’s not that he doesn’t have options.
And in Diogo Jota, Klopp has a forward who has helped to take on Liverpool’s scoring burden firstly while Salah was away at the African Cup and then amid the Egyptian’s recent struggles.
Jota appears to be Liverpool’s first-choice center forward now, displacing Roberto Firmino by doing all the dirty work like the Brazilian — the tracking back, the pressing, the harrying of defenders — but scoring a lot more goals at the same time.
Jota has scored four goals in his last six games, including the winner against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarterfinals and crucial openers against Arsenal and Watford in the league. He is tied for second in the league’s scoring chart with 14 goals.
Rested against Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, Jota is highly likely to start against City. It’s which two players are alongside him in the three-pronged forward line that’s the big question.
And this is where Liverpool hold the edge over City, which will start the game at Etihad Stadium one point clear of Klopp’s team with eight games left. Liverpool’s firepower simply is greater, with Klopp able to call upon Salah, Jota, Firmino, Mane and January signing Luis Diaz, who has settled in seamlessly since joining from Porto.
City have a slew of classy attacking midfielders and forward but none have the cutting edge of the likes of Salah — when he’s in form — or Jota.
City manager Pep Guardiola knows a draw is enough to leave the destiny of the title solely in his team’s hands. If that happens, City will win the league by winning its next seven games.
The onus is on Liverpool to go on the attack, which makes the game all the more enticing for fans.
And Klopp, who boldly played a front four of Mane, Salah, Jota and Firmino at the Etihad two seasons ago, knows he has the offensive players to overwhelm City.
Whether Salah is playing or not.


Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
Updated 01 July 2022

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
  • Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne of DS TECHEETAH

SAUDI ARABIA: The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship returns to Marrakesh on Saturday for round 10 in the 16-race season, with four drivers pulling ahead in the battle for the drivers’ title.

Going into the Marrakesh E-Prix at the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH).

Edoardo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing) is two points back in third place, while Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing), who won last time out in Jakarta, sits fourth, but only 12 points back from the standings lead.

With a maximum of 29 points on offer in Marrakesh, any one of those four drivers could lead the championship come the chequered flag on Saturday,

Evans’ win in Indonesia squeezed the margins splitting the top four, with Mortara and Vergne also making the podium last time around to pile the pressure on points pacesetter Vandoorne.

Consistency is key in Formula E if any driver is to assemble a run at the World Championship. The Belgian has finished outside the top five just twice in nine rounds, though both Evans and Mortara have scored in all but two races this season, while Vergne has never failed to tally.

The Atlas mountains provide the backdrop for Formula E’s fifth trip to the city’s centuries-old Agdal district, with the first Marrakesh E-Prix taking place in 2016. The track follows the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan — named after the crown prince of Morocco — before spilling out onto the streets of Marrakesh’s hotel district.

Renowned for being an energy-zapping circuit, this fast and highly technical track features 12 turns, three straights and a series of bends completing a track length of 2.971 kilometers.

Last time out in Morocco was magic for Antonio Felix da Costa and DS TECHEETAH who dominated proceedings, with victory setting in motion a run to the 2019-20 championship trophy.

Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) sealed the win on Formula E’s inaugural visit in 2016, with Felix Rosenqvist and Jerome D’Ambrosio taking back-to-back victories for Mahindra Racing in 2018 and 2019 before da Costa fired his season six title charge into life a year later here.


Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia
Updated 01 July 2022

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia
  • Automobile Club d’Italia and Regione Sardegna co-organizing event

RIYADH: The countdown is on to the first-ever double-header Extreme E event, as the championship returns to the Italian island of Sardinia for a summer showdown of back-to-back racing on July 6-7 and July 9-10.

NEOM’s title sponsorship of the Island X Prix follows the announcement that Extreme E has entered into a multi-year relationship with ENOWA, NEOM’s energy, water, and hydrogen subsidiary, to introduce green hydrogen power to their global sustainable racing series.

Extreme E continues to showcase innovative sustainable solutions, whether they demonstrate the full potential of e-SUVs or deliver legacy programs at race locations.

The event will be returning to the Season 1 location of the army training area at Capo Teulada in Sulcis-Iglesiente. The Teulada will provide a challenging backdrop for the course, which measures around 7 kilometers.

Due to the hot summer conditions in July, the terrain will be much drier than last year’s Enel X Island X Prix, with the drivers having to navigate a harder, more compact surface riddled with rocks, bushes, and dry riverbeds cracked from the heat.

The purpose-driven message of the series will focus on blue and green carbon restoration in Sardinia, continuing to work alongside the MEDSEA Foundation (Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation) to support two significant projects.

For Round Two, the first project explores green carbon. The sport-for-purpose championship will be returning to Sennariolo to visit the communities affected by the devastating wildfires of 2021.

As for Round Three, the second project supports seagrass conservation,  mitigating the detrimental effects of blue carbon in Mediterranean waters.

Extreme E has been working closely with Automobile Club d’Italia - the national sports federation co-organizing and coordinating the event - the Region of Sardinia and its Tourism Department, the Ministry of Defense, and the Italian Army.


Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
Updated 01 July 2022

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
  • Milan icon Maldini's new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side
  • Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game

MILAN: Paolo Maldini will stay on as AC Milan’s technical director after signing a new two-year contract, the Serie A champions announced on Friday.
Milan icon Maldini’s new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side.
Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara, who has also signed a two-year extension, to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game.
“This deal highlights the importance of continuity we see throughout the club as we continue to strengthen and grow,” Milan said in a statement.
The 54-year-old confirmed late last night that he had signed an extension after weeks of delays which almost led to Milan starting the summer transfer window — which opened in Italy on Friday — without their key men.
He has been critical in Milan signing some of their most important players, one such example being a now-famous meeting in Ibiza which was crucial to bringing Theo Hernandez to the club in 2019.
France left-back Hernandez was a stand-out player in last season’s surprise title win.
Maldini is one of the greatest players in Milan’s history, winning a raft of trophies over a quarter of a century passed entirely with his boyhood club.
He played over 900 times for Milan, winning the European Cup or Champions League five times and claiming seven Serie A titles before retiring in 2009.
That success was not replicated in an Italy jersey despite earning 126 caps, losing in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals.
Last month Milan announced that current owners, investment fund Elliott Management, had agreed to sell the club to rival US fund RedBird for 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
Milan said that the sale of the club will be completed no later than September.


Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
Updated 01 July 2022

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
  • The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract
  • Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017

LIVERPOOL: Mohamed Salah signed a new three-year contract with Liverpool on Friday which will keep him at the club until 2025.
The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract after negotiations over extending his stay dragged on for most of last season.
The 30-year-old forward’s wage demands had been a stumbling block, but a delegation flew out to meet with the player, who is still currently on holiday in the Mediterranean, and came to an agreement which reportedly makes the forward the highest-paid player in the club’s history.
“I feel great and (I am) excited to win trophies with the club. It’s a happy day for everyone,” Salah told the club’s website. “It takes a little bit of time, I think, to renew, but now everything is done so we just need to focus on what’s next. I think you can see in the last five or six years the team was always going (upwards).”
Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017 and has helped them win the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, FA Cup and League Cup during that time.
“If I look back to that time when I came (here), the club were not winning many things but I think I told you I had come (here) to win trophies,” Salah said. “I think we have won good trophies together and I think we can do it again.”
Liverpool won the FA Cup and League cup last season but finished second to Manchester City in the Premier League and lost the final of the Champions League to Real Madrid.


Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
Updated 01 July 2022

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
  • Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s basketball team secured their spot in the second round of qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup with a come-from-behind win against Indonesia in Jakarta on Friday.

The Saudis were down by 13 points at one point mid-third quarter, but outscored their hosts by 16-2 to lead 49-48 going into the final quarter.

Despite a valiant effort from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win, which propelled them to top of their Asia First Round qualifying pool.

The Saudis can go into their preparations for the second round in style if they seal another win on the road when they face Lebanon, who along with Jordan have also qualified for the next phase, in Zouk Mikael on Monday.

Indonesia are co-hosting next year’s basketball World Cup with the Philippines and Japan.