Mohamed Salah was affected by his contract saga in the latter stages of last season, according to Liverpool team-mate Virgil van Dijk.

Egypt international Salah signed a new deal at Anfield last month worth a reported £350,000 a week, making him the highest-earning player in the club's history.

That brought an end to months of speculation regarding the 30-year-old's future, having himself hinted that he may move away as he entered the final year of his previous deal.

Despite Salah finishing last season as the Premier League's joint-top goalscorer alongside Son Heung-min, Van Dijk believes the contract standoff took its toll on the Egypt star.

"At the end of the season, from maybe April until the end, there was a lot of talk about his contract and stuff," Van Dijk told The Telegraph. 

"We're all human beings and maybe that affected him a little bit, unfortunately."

The 118 Premier League goals Salah has scored since his first Liverpool campaign in 2017-18 is 13 more than next-best Harry Kane.

Former Chelsea forward Salah scored 27 goals in his first 31 appearances for the Reds in all competitions last season, compared to four goals in his final 20 games.

He was on the scoresheet from the penalty spot in Saturday's Community Shield win over Manchester City, and Van Dijk has backed his colleague to continue scoring regularly.

"He still showed high levels and quality and he played with a free mind and obviously he's happy to be here and I think everyone is happy to be here," the Dutchman said.

"He showed it already for the last three years. He's under the microscope all the time. He created that himself. He's such a good player and shows that consistently all the time."

Virgil van Dijk told Darwin Nunez to get his "head down, work and be important" for Liverpool after the striker's decisive cameo performance against Manchester City.

Nunez came on with just under an hour played in Saturday's Community Shield clash between the Premier League champions and the FA Cup winners.

He made a telling impact, winning a penalty when his header struck the arm of Ruben Dias to enable Liverpool to restore their lead through Mohamed Salah after Julian Alvarez had cancelled out Trent Alexander-Arnold's opener.

Nunez, signed from Benfica for a fee of £64million (€75m), with a further £21.4m (€25m) in potential add-ons, capped off a 3-1 triumph for Jurgen Klopp's side with a header late in stoppage time.

The 23-year-old had been the target of criticism and social media jibes following some sloppy performances early in pre-season, though Nunez scored four in a 5-0 rout of RB Leipzig last week and slotted in seamlessly to Liverpool's attack at the King Power Stadium.

Van Dijk shrugged off the criticism of his new team-mate, who the defender explained is already an important player in Liverpool's squad following the departure of club great Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich.

"He's important. He's difficult to play against and hopefully he can show it for the rest of the season," Van Dijk told reporters.

"We all help him in some ways and make sure that he's comfortable, he's calm and just work, and don't focus on what the outside world has to say because everyone has to say something these days. So head down, work and be important for the club.

"I don't speak Spanish, so I'm not saying anything to him at the moment, but we have plenty of Spanish speakers in the team and I know for a fact that they help him, and I don't see anything that bothers him at the moment.

"But we will see, everyone has something to say because there are so platforms to do it. So it can hit you but it shouldn't. Just enjoy your game, enjoy the group, enjoy the club, because we are very blessed to be able to play for Liverpool."

It was a sentiment echoed by midfielder Fabinho, who himself took time to settle into the Premier League following a move from Monaco in 2018.

He said: "We saw he's getting better from the first game of the pre-season. He did really well for the team.

"We've had three weeks of training, so now he knows the way we play a little bit. We are learning the way he plays a little bit more.

"We know he is fast, he's strong and he's a proper number nine. He will be in the box, it looks like the ball follows him, he will always get the chance to score.

"So yeah, I think it's really important for him to score in the first official game in a Liverpool shirt. He will be very important for us this season."

Liverpool's victory marked their first Community Shield triumph under Klopp, at the third time of asking.

Including occasions when the trophy was shared, only Manchester United (21) have won the trophy more times than the Reds (16), whose performance delivered a message to rivals City ahead of the new campaign.

Van Dijk, though, knows using the Community Shield display to predict how Liverpool's season could go would be foolish.

"We can't look to the future," the centre-back added. "It's a boring answer but we knew that, for example, two years ago we had so many injuries, those are part of football as well.

"We are focussing game by game. Hopefully it will be a successful season, better than last season. We are excited to crack on, and we will see what the year brings."

This time last year was a very different period for Virgil van Dijk, who was in the process of returning from a serious knee injury.

As a result of that setback, the Dutch defender missed the majority of the 2020-21 season, in which Liverpool struggled in their defence of the Premier League title.

However, with Van Dijk back and a new face through the door in Ibrahima Konate, who arrived from RB Leipzig, Jurgen Klopp's side were ready to mount a challenge for all the major trophies last term.

They fell narrowly short of winning an unprecedented quadruple, but still managed to secure the EFL and FA Cups, while reaching the Champions League final and finishing second in the league by just one point, boasting the joint-best defensive record alongside champions Manchester City (26 goals conceded).

Konate was eased in at Anfield by Klopp, but still made 29 appearances in all competitions during his debut campaign with the Reds, and Van Dijk has waxed lyrical about the ability and potential of the France international.

Speaking to the club's official website during a pre-season training camp in Austria, Van Dijk said: "[Konate is] a very, very good player.

"What I like the most about him is [his] will to learn each and every day as well.

"Obviously there are loads of things that can improve – and that's good because he has time, he needs the experience. In my opinion, experience is a big thing for a centre-half to learn and to take with you.

"In his case, I'm very happy to see him develop, I'm very happy to see him shine on and off the pitch, he's a fantastic character."

Konate will hope to be part of Didier Deschamps' France squad which defends the World Cup in Qatar later this year, but another Reds defender perhaps has more work to do to appear at the tournament.

Joe Gomez also missed a big chunk of the 2020-21 campaign with an injury picked up on England duty, and has not been selected for a Three Lions squad since.

The 25-year-old recently signed a new contract at Liverpool, despite only making 21 appearances last season (11 starts), several of which came at right-back as Klopp preferred Konate or Joel Matip at centre-back.

But after playing regularly alongside Gomez during Liverpool's Premier League title-winning season in 2019-20, Van Dijk was pleased to see him sign a new deal and believes he may even be England's best defender when fit.

"We spoke about it before he signed the deal and I'm just very happy that he's staying at the club, staying with me. Also, I'm happy for the club that he's signed," the former Celtic and Southampton man said.

"He is, in my opinion, [one of] if not the best English centre-back around. Obviously we've both been very unlucky with the injuries we had. His time will come again and hopefully this season he can show that."

Simon Mignolet hopes Belgium can learn from their shock 4-1 defeat to the Netherlands, who outclassed the world's second-ranked team in Brussels.

The form book was on Belgium's side heading into their Nations League opener at home to the Oranje on Friday.

The Red Devils had not lost to their neighbours since September 1997 and had not lost to any side at home since September 2016.

But both of those runs came to an end as Belgium were blown away, with Mignolet – in for Champions League final hero Thibaut Courtois – left horribly exposed.

Nine of the Netherlands' 15 shots came over a 25-minute first-half stretch in which Belgium did not attempt one.

Steven Bergwijn netted the opener shortly after that onslaught, before Memphis Depay scored twice either side of a simple Denzel Dumfries finish in the second half.

It was the first time Belgium had conceded four goals at home since October 2010, but Mignolet had no complaints about the scoreline.

"There are no excuses for this defeat," the goalkeeper said. "You get the chance to play against the Netherlands and you have to grab that opportunity with both hands.

"In the run-up to the World Cup, tonight's game and the remaining matches in the Nations League were good opportunities to measure ourselves.

"We have to learn from this and take things forward to the preparations for the World Cup in Qatar."

The mood in the Dutch camp was rather more cheerful, as captain Virgil van Dijk told NOS: "It was a good win with good football. Everyone was good today.

"Steven Bergwijn in particular was excellent – they couldn't get a grip on him – but also Steven Berghuis and Frenkie de Jong. Actually, I can be positive about everyone. It was a great team performance.

"We did an excellent job, we forced them to make mistakes and we scored good goals."

Van Dijk came straight from playing against Courtois in the Champions League final and will now bring his long season to an end while the Netherlands turn their focus to further Nations League matches.

"It's time to recover," the centre-back added. "I'm going on holiday now and the rest can prepare for Wales [on Wednesday]."

Son Heung-min can count himself unlucky after the Tottenham star missed out on a nomination for the PFA Player of the Year.

Spurs forward Son scored 23 Premier League goals in the 2021-22 season, sharing the competition's Golden Boot award with Mohamed Salah.

The Liverpool talisman is included on the list of six nominees, alongside team-mates Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane.

Son's strike partner Harry Kane does make the cut, while Kevin de Bruyne is the sole representative of champions Manchester City.

His team-mates Bernardo Silva and Rodri may also consider themselves hard done by, having both enjoyed wonderful campaigns.

Cristiano Ronaldo could not take Manchester United into the Champions League on his return to the club, but his 18 league goals have seen him receive a nomination.

The PFA also confirmed the list of nominees for the Young Player of the Year award, with City attacker Phil Foden joined by Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka and his club-mate Emile Smith Rowe.

That trio will go up against Chelsea pair Conor Gallagher, who shined on loan at Crystal Palace this season, and Reece James, as well as Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey, for the award.

The end of the club season means individual awards are dominating the discourse right now in European football. Well, if you can't beat them, join them.

Rather than just run through the usual categories highlighting the best player and best coach – although we will do that, too – why not focus on some alternative prizes?

The NBA Awards provide a fine blueprint, rewarding superstars alongside breakout performers, recovering veterans and valuable bench players.

Relying heavily on Opta data, we'll steer clear of team honours – a blow to Wout Weghorst, whose eight blocks (leading all forwards in Europe's top five leagues) might have carved out a spot leading the All-Defensive First Team – but there remains plenty to go at...

Most Valuable Player

Only one player had more goal involvements than Karim Benzema (39) in the top five leagues this season, and Real Madrid would really rather not talk about the man top of the charts. That other leading France forward had a hand in 45 goals, yet the value of Benzema's contributions to a LaLiga title triumph separates him from the rest.

Benzema's goal involvements were worth 29 points across the season, the most of any player, with Kylian Mbappe, of course, second on 28. Just considering Benzema's 27 goals, he accounted for 20 points – trailing Dusan Vlahovic (22 points) alone.

 

Required to perform repeated rescue acts in the Champions League, too, Madrid's number nine played only 2,596 minutes in LaLiga – or 75.9 per cent of the full season. He was therefore involved in a goal every 67 minutes, narrowly second in this regard behind Erling Haaland (66 minutes) among those to play 1,000 minutes or more across Europe.

Coach of the Year

Were this the NBA, Carlo Ancelotti would surely also qualify for the Lifetime Achievement Award. In guiding Benzema and Madrid to the LaLiga title, the Italian became the first coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues, following successes in Serie A with Milan, the Premier League with Chelsea, Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain and the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.

Ancelotti, also the oldest LaLiga-winning coach at 62, earned only two more points than Zinedine Zidane had in finishing second in the prior season, but Madrid maintained this high standard despite losing both of their senior centre-backs heading into the campaign as they seemingly saved for the now failed pursuit of Mbappe.

Meanwhile, Everton, the team Ancelotti left for his second Madrid stint, finished 20 points short of their 2020-21 total, spending the season battling relegation rather than chasing Europe and perhaps putting his work at Goodison Park in context.

Rookie of the Year

Given the differences between the NBA and Europe's top five leagues, it is difficult to quantify exactly how many players might be considered 'rookies', let alone identify the best of them. Someone like Luis Diaz, for example, played his first minutes in the top five leagues this season, yet he had already scored goals in the Champions League and Copa America so surely doesn't fit the bill.

On the other hand, Hugo Ekitike definitely does.

Among the nine players who were teenagers at the start of the season and finished with 10 or more goal involvements, only Ekitike had never previously started a game in Europe's top five leagues. His 13 involvements in 2021-22 (10 goals, three assists) arrived every 98 minutes on average, the best rate of this group and the 18th-best overall – just behind Neymar (also 98 mins) and ahead of Son Heung-min (101 mins).

The 19-year-old Reims forward, who turned down a transfer to Newcastle United in January before sustaining a thigh injury, scored with an astonishing 32.3 per cent of his shots – second behind Wissam Ben Yedder (34.7 per cent) among players with 20 or more attempts – and has been linked with moves to PSG and Borussia Dortmund, as well as St James' Park.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

As elsewhere, many of these awards focus on offensive talents, so there is a dedicated category for the best defender – and there could really only be one winner this year.

Injury restricted Virgil van Dijk to 371 minutes in 2019-20, and he was badly missed by Liverpool in their title defence, as they conceded 42 Premier League goals – their most since shipping the same number in the season before the centre-back's 2018 arrival.

With Van Dijk fit again this term and missing only four matches, the Reds conceded the joint-fewest number of goals across the top five leagues (26, tied with Manchester City). No defender played a part in more clean sheets (21).

Those figures show the impact Van Dijk had on the team as a whole, but his performances in individual battles were equally impressive. The Liverpool man won 73.5 per cent of his duels and 77.5 per cent of his aerial duels – both the best marks of defenders to make 30 or more appearances in the top five leagues.

Comeback Player of the Year

Okay, so the NBA no longer highlights a Comeback Player of the Year, but the NFL continues to identify an individual who has overcome the adversity of the previous campaign, allowing us to recognise one of the stories of the season.

Of course, for the reasons outlined above, Van Dijk might have had a claim to this prize in any other year, yet he is beaten this time by a player who actually won Serie A in 2020-21.

Within weeks of that title triumph, Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020, prompting fears for his life and then, even after his recovery, his career.

But Eriksen was fitted with an ICD, left Inter, joined Brentford in January and promptly won each of the first five Premier League games he started for the relegation-threatened Bees. Finishing with seven victories from 10 starts, only nine players in the top five leagues created more chances over this period than Eriksen (29, including four assists).

Most Improved Player

There were no shortage of players showing signs of significant improvement in 2021-22. Five-goal Euro 2020 forward Patrik Schick starred on the club stage at last, Newcastle striker-turned-midfielder Joelinton enjoyed a resurgence and Vinicius Junior was outstanding as Benzema's foil, but Christopher Nkunku stood head and shoulders above the rest as he swiftly established himself among Europe's elite.

Nkunku had scored a mere six goals and assisted the same number for RB Leipzig in the 2020-21 Bundesliga, but those goal involvements increased dramatically from 12 to 33 this season, ranking fifth across Europe's top five leagues and joint-third when excluding penalties (32). With 20 total goals and 13 assists, the newly capped France international was one of just 12 players to reach double figures in both categories.

Of players to feature in at least 20 games in each of the past two campaigns, only Moussa Dembele (20) and Schick (15) improved their season-on-season goal tallies by a greater margin than Nkunku (14); Dembele alone (24) showed greater improvement in terms of goal involvements (21).

 

In a season in which Leipzig recovered from a slow start to make the top four by a single point, Nkunku's contributions were vital. He had a hand in 45.8 per cent of their Bundesliga goals and 50.8 per cent of those he was on the field for.

Twelfth Man of the Year

The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year is recognised as the season's most impactful bench player, which feels like a nice addition here.

Were this a long-standing European football award, it might have by now been renamed in honour of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who scored 17 goals in 84 Premier League substitute appearances – one every 88 minutes on average. Given Rodrygo Goes and Eduardo Camavinga largely reserved their heroics for the Champions League, the 2021-22 equivalent in the top five leagues could be Matheus Cunha.

Ben Yedder scored the most goals from the bench this season, but those seven counted towards 25 in total as he also started 29 matches. Cunha was restricted to only eight starts for Atletico Madrid, yet he scored three and assisted four in 21 outings as a substitute, matching Ben Yedder and Ignacio Pussetto with a Europe-high seven such goal involvements.

Atletico's man in times of need, Cunha contributed to vital goals, too. He was one of only two players to both score and assist in the same game as a substitute on more than one occasion (also Arnaud Nordin), with the second of those two performances seeing the Brazil forward introduced against Valencia with his side 2-0 down; Cunha scored seven minutes after his introduction and later teed up the winner in a 3-2 victory, justifying his season-long role as a super-sub.

Liverpool will have Virgil van Dijk to call on for the Champions League final.

The defender suffered an injury in the FA Cup final against Chelsea earlier this month and subsequently did not feature in either of Liverpool's final two Premier League outings.

Liverpool won both games, coming from behind to beat Southampton 2-1 and Wolves 3-1, though those victories were not enough to secure the Premier League title, which went the way of Manchester City.

While Liverpool's hopes of a quadruple are now over, Jurgen Klopp's team will go in hunt of a third trophy of another fine season when they face Real Madrid at the Stade de France on Saturday, and one of their key men will be available for selection.

Van Dijk told Liverpoolfc.com: "Yeah, I'm fine, absolutely fine. No issues and very excited for Saturday, of course."

Asked if the two-week break had helped him recover, Van Dijk explained: "Yeah, I think physically definitely. 

"My body is definitely enjoying a little bit of rest after playing so many games, so many tense moments, and I think getting a little knock after the FA Cup final was maybe a sign that my body needed to have a rest. 

"I feel absolutely fine now and looking forward to, hopefully, a special evening."

Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk have been named among the substitutes for Liverpool's final game of the Premier League season against Wolves at Anfield.

The Reds need to win and hope Manchester City drop points against Aston Villa in order to win the title on the final day – otherwise Pep Guardiola's men will be champions once again.

Divock Origi misses out with a muscle injury in what would have been his final home appearance for Liverpool, with the striker leaving the club at the end of the season, reportedly on his way to Milan.

Salah and Van Dijk both suffered injuries in last week's FA Cup final win against Chelsea, although manager Jurgen Klopp indicated his confidence that both would be fit for next week's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Klopp said on Friday both would be in contention against Wolves, along with Fabinho, but none of the trio make the starting XI. Fabinho, injured at Aston Villa before the cup final, misses out completely.

Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip continue to pair up in defence, while Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita make up the three-man midfield. James Milner – out of contract as things stand – is on the bench.

Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane start in attack, with Liverpool looking to end the season undefeated at home.

With Son Heung-min only a goal behind Salah in the Golden Boot race, Liverpool's talisman will hope to appear at some stage.

Jurgen Klopp understands Mohamed Salah would be keen to play on the final day of the Premier League season and clinch the Golden Boot, but neither Liverpool nor the player are willing to take any risks with his fitness.

Salah sustained a groin injury in Liverpool's FA Cup final win over Chelsea last weekend and missed the midweek victory at Southampton that keeps the Reds in contention for the title.

There could yet be a double celebration for Klopp's men on Sunday, with City only one point ahead while Salah (22 goals) narrowly leads Son Heung-min (21) in the scoring charts.

But given Liverpool also have the Champions League final against Real Madrid to consider the final week, they have to be sure Salah is fit to play.

The winger – who has been nominated for the PFA Fans' Player of the Year, alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Conor Gallagher and Declan Rice – is not the cup winners' only injury concern either.

Virgil van Dijk (knee) was also injured at Wembley, while Fabinho (hamstring) hobbled out of the prior match against Aston Villa. Joe Gomez, who has a history of serious injuries, had an ankle problem at Southampton.

"Joe has good news," Klopp said ahead of Sunday's match against Wolves. "We want a reassuring further scan, but the first was like he and we thought after the game – we were lucky.

"It was a proper knock, but nothing happened. It's the leg where he was injured, so I understand 100 per cent everyone was concerned; I was, until I saw Joe's face in the dressing room, because most of the time we know best about our body.

"The result of this [second] scan is not here yet, but we don't expect anything really different. It's just about reassuring it's all fine.

"And then from there, we go. If it's fine, then it's about pain: how can he deal with pain? We'll see what Joe can do today or tomorrow, but I don't know at the moment.

"With the other boys, it looks all good. What we do with them at the weekend, I have no idea.

"I understand 100 per cent the goalscoring battle with Son Heung-min, but there is no chance we take any risk; Mo doesn't want to take any risk, there's no doubt about that.

"But it looks good, the boys made steps. We will see.

"My preferred solution would be they all could play at the weekend, for rhythm reasons, stuff like this, or at least could be on the bench and we could bring them on or not. But if not, then we take it from there. I cannot say 100 per cent."

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah is confident he will be fit to face Real Madrid in the Champions League final despite suffering an injury in the FA Cup final win over Chelsea.

Salah was forced off just over 30 minutes into Saturday's showdown at Wembley.

Even without their talisman, Liverpool went on to claim their second trophy of the season – the Reds triumphing 6-5 on penalties after a goalless draw over 120 minutes.

Liverpool have two Premier League games remaining, and sit three points behind leaders Manchester City, before they then face Madrid in Paris on May 28 and there was concern over Salah's participation after he was withdrawn.

But asked by reporters if he would be fit to feature against Los Blancos, a smiling Salah replied: "Of course."

Salah was not the only Liverpool player to suffer in north London. Andrew Robertson had to go off with apparent cramp, albeit his replacement Konstantinos Tsimikas scored the winning spot-kick, while Virgil van Dijk was replaced by Joel Matip at the end of normal time.

Van Dijk had an issue with his knee, but told ITV Sport that he is hopeful it was a minor injury.

"Hopefully well, we're going to check it out," he said. "I felt in the first half when I sprinted, I felt a twinge behind my knee, I played on.

"In the end, I can't risk it for the team and I need to trust Joel. Hopefully it will be fine."

In his post-match news conference, Jurgen Klopp said: "Obviously I spoke to both already after the game, both are really okay. All that we know is it's not a big thing, we really came through."

However, he is unsure if the pair will be fit to face Southampton on Tuesday.

"But the next game is on Tuesday and that's obviously pretty quick," he continued. 

"I think they both will be fine, but not… maybe… we have training tomorrow morning, then if they tell me 'I'm completely fine' I will be surprised but I will take it and then we have to go from there. So we will see."

With Salah and Van Dijk playing this season, Liverpool have won 31 times out of 43 games, suffering only three defeats.

The Reds have scored 101 goals across all competitions in matches the duo have featured in, while they have managed 41 in the 17 games that at least one of the two have missed.

However, Liverpool have not lost any of those games, winning 13 and drawing four.

Their average goals conceded per game does, though, rise slightly, from 0.7 with the pair playing, to 0.9 without.

Konstantinos Tsimikas scored the winning penalty as Liverpool kept their quadruple hopes alive with a 6-5 shoot-out success over Chelsea after an absorbing FA Cup final.

Extra-time substitute Tsimikas sent Edouard Mendy the wrong way with the decisive kick after Alisson saved from Mason Mount, as Jurgen Klopp's side secured a repeat of February's EFL Cup final win after two hours of action ended 0-0.

Liverpool had been dealt a huge blow when Mohamed Salah was forced off through injury in the first half, with Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson also substituted after 90 minutes were through.

But the Reds dug deep to condemn Chelsea to their third consecutive FA Cup final loss, and they could yet add the Premier League and Champions League trophies to their domestic cup double in the coming weeks.

Mohamed Salah would rather face Real Madrid than Manchester City in the final of the Champions League in Paris as they target the quadruple after seeing off a spirited Villarreal performance in the last four.

Liverpool survived a huge scare in Spain to reach their 10th European Cup/Champions League final, with Fabinho, Luis Diaz, and Sadio Mane scoring second-half goals after Villarreal wiped out the Reds' first-leg lead in an unbelievable first half.

Liverpool have become the first team to reach the finals of the European Cup/Champions League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup in a single season, and trail City by just one point in an absorbing Premier League title race.

The Reds' incredible form has led to talk of Jurgen Klopp's team lifting four major trophies at the end of the campaign, with Salah hoping to complete the quadruple against Madrid having been substituted after suffering an injury in Liverpool's 2018 final loss to Los Blancos.

"Yeah, [it's a target] for sure," he told BT Sport. "Maybe not in the beginning of the season if I'm honest, because I always focus on the Champions League and the Premier League, but now we are close for everything, so why not? 

"I think after we beat City in the semi-final of the [FA] cup [Liverpool believed it was possible], but in the Champions League, from the beginning we were playing unbelievable games, we had a really tough group and we beat everybody, so I said from that time we could win the Champions League this year.

"I want to play Madrid, I have to be honest. City is a really tough team, we played against them a few times this season, but I think if you ask me personally, I would prefer Madrid.

"Because we lost in the final against them, I want to play against them, and hopefully win against them as well."

Salah assisted Fabinho's vital 62nd-minute goal in Spain, taking his tally to an incredible 45 goal contributions in all competitions this season (30 goals, 15 assists), and the Egypt international revealed he had set himself a target of 40 goals before the campaign began.

"I just give the team everything, we have to focus for the team because we fight for everything, we won one trophy already, we are in the final, we continue to fight for the Premier League and we are in a final against Chelsea [in the FA Cup]," he added.

"I just focus, and try to train hard. I know what I want at the end of the season, so hopefully I can get what I want. 

"Before the season starts, I know what I want from the season, individually and collectively. The collective is the most important, [but] I'm nearly there, I have a big expectation for myself. 

"Honestly, I never said this before but before the season started, I was like 'okay, I'll go for 40 goals this season, and 10 or 15 assists'. I need to focus on the goals now!"

Reds defender Virgil van Dijk, meanwhile, hailed winger Diaz for his impact after the January arrival changed the game as a half-time substitute, but refused to join Salah in stating a preferred final opponent.

"The way he goes one versus one, it doesn't really matter who he is facing, he just goes at you without any fear," Van Dijk said of Diaz. "And if he loses it, he wins it back and goes again. That is very difficult to defend.

"Any team that we face in the final of this competition will be a nightmare to play against. We know City but they know us too. We know how intense those games are. Real Madrid is Real Madrid. Such a big club and an in-form striker [Karim Benzema]."

Liverpool's Champions League final opponents will be revealed when Pep Guardiola's City travel to the Spanish capital on Wednesday, attempting to defend a 4-3 first-leg lead to set up an all-English final.

The Premier League's longest-serving manager is to remain in his post until 2026 after agreeing a two-year contract extension to his deal at Anfield.

Having already led the Reds to their first ever Premier League title, ending a 30-year wait for top-flight glory, and a sixth European crown since arriving in England in 2015, Klopp is looking to become the first boss to win a historic quadruple in another fine campaign.

Liverpool finished eighth when Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers during the 2015-16 season but the German's canny recruiting has helped restore the club to one of the game's global powerhouses.

And Stats Perform has used Opta data to run through the club's best signings of the Klopp era.

Sadio Mane

Having led the Reds to EFL Cup and Europa League finals after inheriting a squad built by predecessor Brendan Rodgers, Klopp went about remodelling his team in 2016, with then-Southampton forward Mane representing the biggest arrival ahead of his first full campaign at the helm.

Mane registered 13 goals and seven assists in his debut season, with only Phillipe Coutinho managing more goal contributions for the Reds (14 goals and nine assists). The Senegal forward managed his best campaign to date when scoring 26 goals in all competitions two years later, also winning a vital penalty in the opening stages of their Champions League final win over Spurs.

Including this season, Mane has hit 20 goals in four of his last five campaigns at Anfield, more than paying back his £30million price tag.

Mohamed Salah

If Mane's arrival was a success, where do you start with the debut campaign of Salah, who joined Mane and Roberto Firmino to form a fearsome Reds front three in 2017?

In all competitions, Salah scored an unbelievable 43 goals and registered 14 assists during his first season with the club as Liverpool finished as Champions League runners-up. Salah has hit 117 goals in 176 Premier League appearances for the Reds, has scored in a Champions League final victory and won two Premier League golden boots to date, with another extremely likely to follow this term.

Not bad for a player Chelsea let go for a reported £13.5million back in 2016…

Virgil van Dijk

While Salah and Mane have arguably provided the most magical moments for Klopp's Liverpool, would any of their incredible successes have been possible without the acquisition of Van Dijk in January 2018?

With former club Southampton receiving a reported £75million for his services, Van Dijk certainly did not come cheap, but it could be argued no other player can rival his impact at Anfield. Having conceded 38 league goals in 2017-18, Liverpool shipped just 22 in Van Dijk's first full season with the club as they were crowned European champions and narrowly missed out on the Premier League title.

Indeed, after racking up 97 points that season, Liverpool earned 99 when winning their first Premier League title in 2019-20, 30 more than they earned in the 2020-21 campaign when Van Dijk was sidelined by an ACL injury.

Allison 

The 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid was a turning point for Klopp's Liverpool. The heavy metal football that propelled Klopp to stardom had gotten the Reds so far, but Loris Karius' costly errors demonstrated their need for a safer pair of hands.

For all that Van Dijk's brilliance contributed to Liverpool's incredible defensive record in 2018-19, Allison's arrival must also be credited after he kept 21 clean sheets and recorded a save percentage of 77.08 per cent that term. The Brazilian could yet better those statistics this season, posting 19 Premier League clean sheets to date.

Liverpool's shot-stopper even popped up with a vital goal against West Brom last season to help secure Champions League qualification.

The Hull City left-back, the silky Spaniard and Liverpool's next great attackers: The best of the rest…

Klopp's Liverpool have generally recruited brilliantly since his arrival, and while the aforementioned quartet have arguably had the greatest impact on the team's development, there are numerous others who warrant a mention.

In terms of pure value-for-money, no signing can match the £7million purchase of Andrew Robertson, with only Trent Alexander-Arnold (17) beating the Scot's 15 assists in all competitions this season.

Thiago Alcantara, who arrived from Bayern Munich ahead of lasts season, took a while to convince some doubters, largely owing to the silky midfielder's bad fortune with injuries, but the Barcelona man has been inspirational in recent weeks and no regular Reds midfielder can match his passing accuracy of 89.56 per cent this term (all competitions).

If Liverpool could be said to have had one weakness in recent seasons, meanwhile, it was a lack of reliable back-ups for Salah and Mane.

However, the form of Diogo Jota and January arrival Luis Diaz has been crucial to Liverpool's quadruple bid. With Jota averaging a goal every 134.6 minutes in the Premier League this term, and Diaz recording five goal contributions (three goals, two assists) in just seven league starts, the duo could be crucial in Klopp's next cycle.

Virgil van Dijk admitted he would not want to face Liverpool's lethal strikers after Villarreal failed to contain the ruthless Reds.

Sadio Mane became the third Liverpool player to score 20 goals this season as Jurgen Klopp's side won the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield 2-0 on Wednesday.

Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota have also reached that amount in the 2021-22 campaign, while Luis Diaz has been a revelation since his arrival from Porto in January.

Divock Origi has also played his part this season, once again coming off the bench to score against Everton in a 2-0 Merseyside derby win last Sunday that keeps the pressure on leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Van Dijk is relieved he is able to watch the Reds' rampant forward line create havoc rather than having to try and keep them at bay.

The centre-back told the club's official website: "They are so important for us at the moment. I don't want to be facing any of our strikers, to be fair.

"Diogo from the bench, Luis, Mo, Sadio, it's incredible, Divock the last game. We are in a good moment, everyone is pushing each other and we'll try to keep that going, and the amount of work they put in is incredible as well."

Liverpool will travel to Estadio de la Ceramica for the second leg next Tuesday with one foot in the final as they attempt to win an unprecedented quadruple.

Van Dijk says there is no chance the Reds will sit back on their advantage.

"We are not going there to defend and defend the lead,” said the Netherlands international.

"We know we have to be very mature there as well, we know it’s going to be tough, probably a little hostile atmosphere, but it’s something we should enjoy as well.

"You don't get to the final the easy way, it's never the case, especially at this stage of the Champions League. You play against fantastic teams. So, it will be tough there but we have to be confident, work hard for the full 95 minutes and hopefully we can get the job done."

Virgil van Dijk insists Liverpool will not listen to suggestions they are favourites against Villarreal when the two sides meet in the Champions League semi-finals.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool defeated Benfica while Villarreal rallied past Bayern Munich to reach the final four and set up just the third meeting between the two teams in European competition.

The Reds will boast home advantage in the first leg on Wednesday, Villarreal having not managed victory in any of their past eight away games in England in all competitions since August 2005.

That last triumph on English soil was over fellow Merseysiders Everton, who Liverpool defeated 2-0 on Sunday to keep their Premier League title and quadruple hopes alive.

While Klopp's team have impressed on all fronts this season, winning the EFL Cup and reaching the FA Cup final as well, Van Dijk warned that Unai Emery's side will pose a threat.

"No, these are press debates that we prefer not to listen to," he told Spanish outlet EFE when asked if Liverpool were favourites. 

"We don't listen if they tell us that we're favourites or not. We will play on Wednesday as we try to play every game, that is, going out to try to win and, if we can, reach the final. 

"Villarreal are a great team, with great fans and a great coach. We really want these two games to start now.

"It will be very difficult because Villarreal is a very difficult team. Obviously, I have seen the games against Bayern Munich and they are a fantastic team defensively.

"The players work hard, have a lot of experience and, above all, play like a collective. In this round only the best remain. There is no easy rival in a semi-final.

"We are aware of the difficulty of these games and these rivals. The return there in Spain is going to be very hard and we expect it to be very intense."

Gerard Moreno has registered four assists in the Champions League this term, with only three players managing more. Indeed, since 2003-04, this is the joint-most by a Spanish player in their debut campaign in the competition, along with Gabi (2013-14) and Isaac Cuenca (2011-12).

Meanwhile, only Karim Benzema (15) has created more secondary chances – the pass played before the ball that sets up a shot or goal – than Dani Parejo (14), highlighting his influence in building Villarreal's attacks, and Van Dijk pinpointed the dangerous pair.

"[Their] central defenders are incredible. Raul Albiol and Pau Torres. They are very experienced and fantastic," the Netherlands international added. 

"Then in the centre of the pitch they have the calm and the touch of Parejo and up top Gerard Moreno [if he is fit] is very fast and can surprise you. 

"We already know a lot about [Arnaut] Danjuma from his time at Bournemouth. It's going to be a very complicated match-up, but this is the Champions League semi-final. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Along with the talent on the pitch, Klopp will also face off against Emery, who has progressed from 84 per cent of his Europa League and Champions League knockout ties (31/37) since the start of the 2009-10 season.

Only former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane (14/16 – 88 per cent) boasts a better win rate in that period among managers to take charge of at least 10 games, and Klopp will be looking to make amends after Emery’s Sevilla beat Klopp’s Liverpool 3-1 in the 2016 Europa League final.

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