The rumours linking Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah with a move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad continues to develop at pace. Speaking to Betfred, ex-Liverpool winger Steve McManaman believes the move could be good for both his former club and their star player next summer. McManaman also spoke about whether Liverpool can challenge for the Premier League title this season, Jude Bellingham’s form and whether he expects Kylian Mbappé to make the move to Real Madrid.

We need to start off the interview by asking you about Liverpool’s impressive 2-1 victory over Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Sunday. How much of a statement victory was it for Liverpool and were there more reasons to feel positive rather than concerned for Jürgen Klopp?

“Jürgen Klopp came out and said something like it was one of the best victories he’s had as Liverpool manager and the win displayed the team’s character and mental strength, so it was a great victory for Liverpool. Lots of changes were made during the game and they all worked out. Jürgen said that Darwin [Núñez] was angry and wanted to prove a point and he did. His finishing was excellent and I believe there were a load of positives for Liverpool to takeaway from the game because this is a different Newcastle United side than it was two or three years ago and at home, their atmosphere is always amazing. The fact that everything was against Liverpool and they were still able to get three points from a losing position means that it’s a huge victory for the team.”

Should Darwin Núñez be a natural starter for liverpool after that performance against Newcastle United? Are you expecting big things from him this season?

“He came in last year and you always have to give players time to settle in. He’s only been a pro for a few years and came to the Premier League from abroad, so he needs to be given time. You need time to learn the language and adapt to the way that Liverpool play because it’s completely different to the way that Benfica play. Now he’s starting to learn the way that Jürgen Klopp wants him to play, he’s starting to communicate better with his teammates, so you hope this is a standout season for Darwin. 

“You can understand why players are frustrated because Liverpool have five forwards and players are going to miss out from time to time. Darwin will get plenty of gametime this season, especially when the Europa League kicks off, and if he keeps scoring like he did on Sunday then he will start on a more regular basis. He deserves his chance to play.”

Jamie Carragher during the live coverage of Newcastle United vs Liverpool on Sunday stated that Liverpool can still challenge for the Premier League title this season, as long as they really ‘go for it’ in the final week of the transfer window. Do you agree with this statement and in what areas would you make additions if you were Jürgen Klopp?

“I’ve always said that I believe Liverpool can challenge for the Premier League title this season. Last season was disappointing, but that was largely due to the injuries they suffered. Their chances of success this season depends on whether they can keep the players fit, but I do also believe that they will bring in another player before the transfer window shuts on Friday. 

“It could be a right-back because when Trent moves in and out of midfield, Liverpool need cover in that area. Liverpool looked far more secure when Trent stayed in the right-back position against Newcastle on Sunday, so it’s a conundrum for Jürgen. There are games for Trent to play centrally and those games should be when Liverpool are at home and dominating possession, but I don’t like this idea of starting at right-back and coming into central midfield straight away. They look vulnerable at times because of it, especially in the first-half against Bournemouth last week, so I just believe that you need a little bit of stability and control of a game before you bring Trent into the midfield.

“I do believe that Liverpool will make a signing, but I don’t know if that will be in the right-back area or the central midfield area. Liverpool do already have numbers in the midfield area and Thiago [Alcântara] and [Stefan] Bajcetic are effectively back, so the important thing for Liverpool is to keep players fit because they have the numbers, but if they lose three or four players in the same area, they could look vulnerable.” 

Do you believe Virgil van Dijk deserved his red card against Newcastle United? 

“Initially, I didn’t think it was a red card because I didn’t believe it was the denial of a goalscoring opportunity because Van Dijk was with the forward. He was so close to [Alexander] Isak, that he should have got to the right side of him quicker. Virgil is so quick that I believe he felt like he could just get there when he wanted to. I just thought it was a poor challenge really.

“Regarding the decision to not send Trent Alexander-Arnold off, the first incident was called wrong and the second incident shouldn’t have been a yellow. Both decisions were wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the throwing of the ball away was a yellow card and I can understand why he got it, but he was fouled by Anthony Gordon in the first place and you’re not throwing the ball away if you’ve won the foul.”

Is Virgil van Dijk the same player he was two or three years ago?

“Yes, I believe he is. Regarding the red card incident on Sunday, Virgil just misjudged the ball and even top defenders can do that sometimes. I’m sure he misjudged challenges three years ago and as the rules have changed in the last few years, the severity of that misjudged challenge was worthy of a red card.”

The Mohamed Salah to Al-Ittihad rumours continues to heat up. Now considering the money on offer and the fact he will be closer to home, do you believe Mo will be secretly pushing for this move in the background?

“Maybe he does want the move right now, but I have no idea if I’m being completely honest. The timing of this move is so, so wrong, that it’ll never happen in this current window. I don’t believe it’s a case of money because it’s too late in the window and for Liverpool to lose Mo Salah now for £100-£200 million is impossible to consider. If it happened in June, then maybe. Next June? Possibly. Probably. However, with days remaining in the window, there’s no chance this move will happen because Jürgen Klopp won’t allow it to happen.”

“The move could happen next season because he’s 32 and if the figures being mentioned remain the same, then of course it’s something that both Liverpool and Mo will look at. Of course, if the money’s right it will benefit the player and the club. If Mo asks to leave next summer, then I’m sure it’s something that Liverpool will consider. It’s like when Real Madrid allowed Casemiro to leave because the money was so good. When a player has been at your club for such a long time and has been a superstar for you, then you’re not going to deny them a move.”

Speculation suggests that former Chelsea loanee João Félix could be eyed up as a potential replacement for Mo Salah, if the Egypt international is to leave Anfield for Al-Ittihad. Are you surprised he’s yet to have found a way out of Atlético Madrid this summer? Do you believe he could recapture his best form in this current Liverpool outfit?

“He’s having a bad time under Diego Simeone. Simeone doesn’t want him to play, the club has an abundance of forwards as well and it looks as if João can’t find a home at the moment. He’s available, of course he is, and he may suit a team like Liverpool considering the way he plays but this link is just a rumour.

“Atlético Madrid would want a lot of money from a suitor to sign him, but those offers aren’t forthcoming at this very moment. He would be a good player in a team that plays really nice football because he’s a very tricky player that has excellent close control and his movement is very good. He just doesn’t fit in a Simeone team. I don’t believe the loan to Chelsea last season was the right move for him and João looks a bit lost at the moment and that’s a pity.”

What’s your opinion on Dominik Szoboszlai’s start to life as a Liverpool player? How excited are you by his addition?

“He’s been brilliant and he’s a really good athlete. I know that everybody’s been really impressed with his running ability, he’s a young lad that wants to learn and I believe he will flourish under Jürgen Klopp. He’s been excellent in the first three games of the season, especially when you take into consideration that Liverpool have had sendings off in two of the first three fixtures and Dominik has shown how adaptable he can be. He’s been excellent.”

Red card against Bournemouth aside, we want to ask you the same question again, but this time regarding Alexis Mac Allister?

“It’s been a hard start of the season for Liverpool. They had the Bournemouth game where Alexis was sent off and they’ve also had difficult trips to Stamford Bridge and St James’ Park, so for the likes of Alexis MacAllister and Dominik Szoboszlai, they’ve been real baptisms of fire. The pair of them have had to play as two number sixes really, which is an area that’s alien to both of them, but that will help their development and enhance their versatility. I believe both of them will become even better players at Liverpool. I really do.”

Liverpool and their bitter rivals Manchester United are both said to be greatly interested in a move for Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch? Do you believe this is a move that will appeal to Liverpool considering his lack of gametime last season? Do you believe it’s best for Liverpool to stay away from another potential bidding war with another Premier League club? A loan move is also being tipped.

“I don’t think the lack of gametime last season matters because he played a lot for Ajax before the move to Bayern Munich. Game time is hard to come by at some of the world’s biggest clubs and Bayern Munich is one of those. His profile suits Liverpool as he’s a young player with international experience, but the worrying thing is that this move hasn’t been done yet. We don’t know which club he’s going to choose if he’s allowed to leave Bayern.

“For the likes of Gravenberch and Sofyan Amrabat, who’s not training with Fiorentina, they’re always linked with moves to either Liverpool and Manchester United, so you’d think that these moves will happen before the transfer window shuts. We will have to wait and see.”

It’s believed that Liverpool’s priority target ahead of the final few days of the transfer window is Crystal Palace midfielder Cheick Doucouré. It’s said he could be available for £70 million, but do you believe he’s worth that from what you’ve seen of him?

“I didn’t think [Moisés] Caicedo and [Roméo] Lavia were worth that sort of money and I don’t believe Cheick Doucouré is worth it either. However, if Crystal Palace thinks he’s worth that money, then that’s what Liverpool are going to have to pay. It’s as simple as that. Some of the figures for defensive midfielders are bonkers, but that’s just a reflection of the current market.”

Do you believe Kylian Mbappé will be a Real Madrid player next season?

“Next year? I honestly don’t know. Real Madrid want him for next year because I don’t believe they can do the business this summer and that’s taking into consideration what I’ve heard from people at the club. Real Madrid believed that Kylian had signed for them a year ago, but the way things are looking in Paris with Neymar leaving, then it does look like Kylian will stay at Paris Saint-Germain. It’s been a whole long drawn-out saga, which isn’t particularly pleasant, but it may be the same result as last time, where other people get involved and Kylian stays in Paris. They need him to stay in Paris.

“Last year, you would have thought there was no way back for Kylian and Real Madrid but even now, if he signs another two-year deal with PSG, then there’s still plenty of time for a move to Real Madrid to materialise in the future. It’s all up to him now as he has the perfect opportunity to leave Paris if he wants to but if he decides to stay now, then he may as well stay there for the future because PSG are going through a rebuilding process and he’s the king of the castle there. All the other big names have gone now, he controls the team and he’s the most powerful person in that squad. It now depends on whether Kylian wants to keep that stature or challenge for the Champions League.”

Can you tell us your thoughts on Jude Bellingham’s start to life at Real Madrid?

“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I’ve spoken to a lot of the staff at the club who say that he’s adapted really well and I spoke to the CEO the other day about him. He’s an instant superstar and in his first game against Athletic Bilbao, Real played with four midfielders with Jude at the top of the diamond. He was in the midfield with Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde and it just looked as if he had been playing with them forever. At the top of the diamond, he has an important position as he’s the player that’s going to have to get into the box and score goals really, because the club currently doesn’t have a natural goalscorer. Joselu isn’t playing at the moment and Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior, who’re both operating in a pairing upfront, aren’t necessarily out-and-out goalscorers either, so it’s up to Jude to keep piling into the box and scoring goals. He’s doing really well at the moment and long may it continue.”

Which clubs do you believe will finish in the top six this upcoming Premier League season? From one to six please.

“Manchester City first, Liverpool second, Arsenal third, Chelsea fourth, Manchester United fifth and Tottenham sixth. I believe the so-called ‘big six’ will occupy the top six positions come the end of the season. 

“I’m going to say Chelsea to secure that final Champions League place because I thought they were really impressive against Liverpool and I believe that Reece James, once he returns from injury, and Ben Chilwell are going to be very important for them this season. In a short space of time, it looks as if Mauricio Pochettino is doing a good job. I liked the way they played and I liked the way they passed the ball through the pitch. That was really interesting, and I do believe they could have the personnel to win games, I really do.”

Which Premier League player are you tipping to be the ‘one to watch’ this season? 

“I really like Bukayo Saka for Arsenal and he’s been a lovely player for a number of years now. Enzo Fernández is a good player for Chelsea but when you spend £105 million on someone, then they should be a good player. Manchester City speak for themselves because they’re a machine, so there’s not one standout player that I’d suggest as one to watch for the new season. Maybe it could be a player from one of the clubs that’s lower down the league, someone like Kaoru Mitoma. Maybe he can stand up and be the next player to come off Brighton’s conveyor belt.”

And despite it being too early to tell, could you predict for us which transfer you believe will be the Premier League’s signing of the season? 

“It would have to be a player that’s helped their team win trophies, so obviously it all depends on which clubs are going to win trophies this season. James Ward-Prowse could be excellent for West Ham United or James Maddison at Tottenham, but if Manchester City, Liverpool or Manchester United win trophies this season, then it’ll have to be one of their players. James Ward-Prowse is a great signing, but will he take West Ham to a new level after they won a trophy last season? We don’t know. If Manchester United are successful this season then the signing of the season could be Rasmus Højlund if he can hit the ground running and score plenty of goals for them. It could even be Nicolas Jackson at Chelsea for the same reasons or [Christopher] Nkunku when he returns from injury.”


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