‘Salah gave perfect response - but keeping him not Liverpool’s priority’

Liverpool got the response they wanted from Mohamed Salah in their win over Tottenham. My only disappointment is that his performance came a couple of weeks too late.

I’m not suggesting Salah hasn’t been on top form because of an attitude problem, because I think it is a physical issue that has held him back in recent weeks.

But sometimes a row is as good as a rest when it comes to galvanising a player, and I am not surprised he followed last week’s touchline dispute with Jurgen Klopp with the kind of display we saw against Spurs.

I saw something similar happen with other players so many times during my career and, whenever and whoever it came from, the ability to react to criticism like that in the right way was very important for me personally as well.

A great example of that was on what was only my second start for Liverpool, against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1998. Karl-Heinz Riedle got an injury on the day of the game, so I came in and played behind Michael Owen in a kind of number 10 role.

I’d only just turned 21 and I was very nervous. I lost my first couple of balls with some poor touches and Paul Ince, who was our captain, absolutely annihilated me.

In my head, my natural response was to think ‘I’ll show you’. I ended up being man of the match in a 1-1 draw after playing a lot of the game on my own up front because Owen got sent off.

‘A player trying to prove people wrong’

Of course, Salah is a superstar, not a young player who has just broken into the team. I am certainly not putting myself in the same category as him either, but my point is I think all players have a choice to make when they are criticised.

It seemed as if Klopp had a pop at Salah for something when he was about to come on against West Ham last week, then when he argued back the media and even few supporters have jumped on to have their say about how the player was in the wrong.

The best way - the only way, really - to react to something like that is to think ‘next game, I’ll show you’. Salah certainly did that.

Mohamed Salah puts Liverpool ahead against Tottenham
Salah's goal against Tottenham was his 18th in the Premier League this season [EPA]

He looked sharp right from the start against Spurs and although not everything came off for him, he hit the woodwork a couple of times and he also got his goal. Maybe he did not even head the ball where he wanted to when he made it 1-0, but he was a constant thorn in Tottenham’s side.

Like I said at the start, it is just a shame that it did not come in time to save Liverpool’s title bid, because they are not going to win the league from here.

Still, the good thing for any Liverpool fans looking ahead to next season and life without Klopp is that Salah looked like a player who was giving his all and trying to prove people wrong.

If he was miserable and unhappy and looking for a way out of the club, you would not have seen a response like that.

Will Salah stay or go?

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Arsenal, 2nd Man City, 3rd Liverpool, 4th Aston Villa, 5th Tottenham & 6th Newcastle
[BBC Sport]

Salah turns 32 in June and has only one year left on his contract, so there has been plenty of speculation about his future, especially after what happened last week.

In an ideal world, he won’t leave. His reliability in front of goal is obvious and although he would bring in a big fee, replacing him and finding someone who guarantees the same numbers would be nigh on impossible.

He’s got that rare and wonderful attribute of scoring goals even when he is not playing that well, so I really hope he stays. But the reality is that he might not. He might fancy a new challenge which is the best thing for him and his family.

And as amazing as Salah is, I still think the number one priority for the new manager will be to secure Virgil van Dijk’s future.

Like Salah, Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold are out of contract in the summer of 2025. I don’t think getting Trent signed up will be a problem because he is a local lad who loves Liverpool, but predicting Van Dijk’s next move is a lot harder.

Although the club is always bigger than any individual and there is always someone new to come in or come through, Van Dijk’s presence and ability means he is the one player they would miss more than any other.

Why keeping Van Dijk will be key

Graphic showing Liverpool's starting XI v Tottenham: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Quansah, Van Dijk, Robertson, Elliott, Endo, Mac Allister, Salah, Gakpo, Diaz
[BBC Sport]

When you look at Liverpool’s season as a whole then of course, for obvious reasons, there will be some disappointment about how things have turned out.

But there are also more positives than you might think because they have won a trophy, the Carabao Cup and got back into the Champions League spots, which was not a given after their previous campaign. And there is more to come from this team.

Whether you were the new manager or a fan watching Sunday’s game, it gave you plenty to look forward to with the performance of players such as Jarell Quansah, Cody Gakpo or Harvey Elliott, and also seeing Stefan Bajcetic come on after his long injury lay-off looking so comfortable on the ball.

Any manager coming in would be really excited at the prospect of working with young talent like that, but the balance of what you need around them on the pitch is epitomised by what Van Dijk brings to the team.

He is a cool and calm leader, who is also extremely durable – the only long lay-off he has had since he joined Liverpool in January 2018 was the cruciate ligament injury he sustained in a tackle by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, an incident which was in no way Van Dijk’s fault.

In Van Dijk’s time at Anfield, so many players have benefitted from his presence and that effect will continue as long as he stays there.

That’s what makes him even more important than Salah, and a new contract is crucial. Once that’s done, it gives you wonderful foundations for other players because you know he will guide and improve those coming in.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.