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Salah return will be big lift to title charge

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WAITING GAME: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah on the bench at Goodison Park on Sunday. Photo: Peter Powell/Pool via Reuters

WAITING GAME: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah on the bench at Goodison Park on Sunday. Photo: Peter Powell/Pool via Reuters

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WAITING GAME: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah on the bench at Goodison Park on Sunday. Photo: Peter Powell/Pool via Reuters

Mohamed Salah looked anything but happy as he sat on the Liverpool bench at Goodison Park last Sunday and we won't have long to wait to discover whether his annoyance is deep-rooted.

Liverpool are preparing to take on Crystal Palace at Anfield tonight and after manager Jurgen Klopp confirmed that Salah is fit to return, I would expect him to start alongside Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

If he is not named on the team sheet, the media will not be alone in asking questions over whether there is a problem brewing with Liverpool's star man and you just don't know what might or might not have gone on behind the scenes.

Salah has not been at his best for long periods this season, but he has to be in the Liverpool team when he is fit and he should be desperate to play in the final eight games of the season.

As I know only too well, getting your hands on the Golden Boot is the greatest personal prize an attacking player can have in the game and as Salah has been on list of winners of the prize for the last two seasons, he should be targeting a hat-trick.

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DIFFERENT TIMES: Kenny Dalglish in the stands during the Premier League match at Goodison Park. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire/NMC Pool

DIFFERENT TIMES: Kenny Dalglish in the stands during the Premier League match at Goodison Park. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire/NMC Pool

PA

DIFFERENT TIMES: Kenny Dalglish in the stands during the Premier League match at Goodison Park. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire/NMC Pool

Motivation

He has scored in Liverpool's last five Premier League home games and is not far behind Leicester striker Jamie Vardy in the race for this season's top scorer accolade, so his motivation should be burning for what will be a strange night at Anfield.

Let's be honest, the football we have watched since the Premier League returned last Wednesday has not been great, with the absence of fans making the whole thing feel more than a little strange.

While it's better than having no football at all, Liverpool's title coronation is going to be very low key compared to what it should have been and that is a shame for a team that had pieced together an incredible season before the world came crashing down back in March.

You'll Never Walk Alone will be played when the teams emerge from the tunnel at Anfield this evening, but it will mean a little less without the choir on The Kop belting it out and we saw an example of how this new version of the Premier League lacks some spark at Goodison Park on Sunday.

It was the Merseyside derby in name, but the lack of intensity in the stands was replicated on the pitch, with Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti doing another good job of shutting up shop against Liverpool and diluting their attacking ambition as the game finished without a goal.

Ancelotti did a similar job when he locked horns with Klopp and Liverpool during his time as Napoli boss and his tactics worked well once again, with Everton so nearly nicking a win after they carved out a couple of late chances.

Dejan Lovren's shaky performance when he came on for Joel Matip was worrying and there was a lack of balance on the left side of the Liverpool team, but all of these comments need to be put into some perspective because the sting has been taken out of this season and it will be hard to put it back in.

My hope that Liverpool would explode out of the blocks and aim to shatter all the big records in Premier League history is now waning and I suspect they will end up winning the league by 12 to 15 points, with the momentum they had built up now gone.

It remains to be seen whether they can now get to 100 points and confirm their status as one of the best sides we have seen in this era of English football, but they certainly deserve to get a place in the history books for all they achieved before the Covid-19 lockdown.

Any side that wins 27 or their first 29 games deserves to be hailed as special, but some of the gloss has been stripped away from Klopp and his players after all that has happened to the world over the last few months.

Maybe I am being too critical as the alternative to the flat football we have been watching is ending the season prematurely and clubs casting a vote to crown Liverpool as champions, which would have ensured the title win would always have had a mark against it.

At least they will get the points they need to confirm the title win on the pitch in the next week or so and the crowning moment could come on Thursday night, as I can see Manchester City dropping points against Chelsea.

Chance

City will have their eye on the FA Cup tie at Newcastle on Sunday and will probably rest some of their big names as a result, which will give Chelsea a chance to get get a win they need in their push to secure qualification for next season's Champions League.

In many ways, Liverpool are not the big story at this moment as the title is in the bag and the focus is on the relegation battle and whether teams like Manchester United, Spurs and Chelsea can get into the top four.

Yet Klopp and his players have a chance to turn the spotlight back on themselves as they return to Anfield this evening with the Premier League title within in touching distance.

The champions in waiting know that their moment is coming, but they just need to get over the line in a bit of style.