There is a thrilling three-horse race for the Premier League title as we approach the run-in, but there is also another tussle on the cards.

The Golden Boot is up for grabs, with Erling Haaland having not quite hit the same heights as he did last season, when he broke the Premier League record for goals, with 36.

Manchester City star Haaland is, as it stands, level with his former club-mate Cole Palmer at the top of the competition’s scoring charts, with 20 goals apiece.

Palmer, who will go up against his old club in the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend, moved way up in the charts after he netted four times in Chelsea’s 6-0 rout of Everton on Monday.

But with Palmer and Haaland in FA Cup action, there are plenty of other Golden Boot candidates looking to take advantage and nudge themselves to the front of the pack.

Using Opta data, we assess the numbers behind the players vying for this individual accolade.

Erling Haaland (20)

Sure, Haaland might not quite have scaled the same heights as last season, but he has still scored 20 goals in 26 league games, scoring a goal every 109 minutes on average.

However, the Norwegian has actually underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 23.7 – that 3.7 differential is actually the biggest xG underperformance of any player on this list.

What about Haaland’s expected goals on target (xGOT)? That metric can be used to measure the quality of a player’s finishing, and Haaland’s xGOT of 20.3 suggests the 23-year-old is about on track based on where he has been placing his shots.

Haaland has also chipped in with five assists, giving him an overall goal contributions tally of 25. He has created 28 goalscoring chances for team-mates across the campaign.

Of course, Haaland is a penalty box poacher – 16 of his goals have come from inside the area, while 14 of them have come with his stronger left foot.

 

Cole Palmer (20)

Palmer has stolen the show this season for Chelsea, and is arguably the Blues’ driving force behind their push for European football.

Having signed from City last summer, Palmer has made an instant impact despite only playing 27 times – he averages a goal every 103 minutes, which is better than any of the other candidates featured here.

He scored a perfect hat-trick in the first half of the demolition of Everton, before adding a fourth from the penalty spot after the break – that was Palmer’s ninth successfully converted spot-kick in the league this term.

Unlike Haaland, Palmer has overperformed his xG (15), with his non-penalty xG coming in at 7.9, while also proving his creative talents with nine assists from 53 chances created, which ranks behind only Mohamed Salah (60) of players featured here.

Those 29 goal contributions are matched by only one other Premier League player…

Ollie Watkins (19)

One goal behind Palmer and Haaland, and someone who will be looking to get ahead when Aston Villa face Bournemouth on Sunday, is England international Watkins.

A deft chip in Villa’s brilliant 2-0 win over Arsenal last time out brought up Watkins’ 19th top-flight goal of the campaign – he is now the club’s joint-leading scorer in a single season in the Premier League, matching Christian Benteke (2012-13).

 

What separates Watkins from Palmer and Haaland is his minutes per goal ratio – Watkins has netted every 147 minutes on average, which is 44 minutes worse off than Palmer and 38 than Haaland.

However, with 10 assists, the former Brentford forward leads the goal contributions charts along with Palmer. Interestingly, however, Watkins’ assists have come from an expected assists (xA) of just 3.6, suggesting he has been the benefactor of some particularly excellent finishing from his Villa team-mates.

A goal against Bournemouth on Sunday would see Watkins become just the third English player to score 20+ goals and assist 10+ goals in a 38-game season, along with Frank Lampard in 2009-10 (22 goals, 14 assists) and Harry Kane in 2020-21 (23 goals, 14 assists)

Watkins has proved to be a deadly finisher under Unai Emery, though the trick for opposing defences could be to prevent him getting space in the area to begin with, given that all 19 of his goals have come from inside the box. Obviously, that is easier said than done.

Mohamed Salah (17)

Liverpool will be hoping to bounce back from their damaging defeat to Crystal Palace last week when they take on Fulham on Sunday, and key to the Reds’ clinching success in Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour will surely be the form of Salah.

Since sustaining an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations, Salah has not quite hit top form, but he has still netted 17 goals across 26 league appearances this term, though five of those have been penalties.

 

With an xGOT of 18.4, Salah can point to some above average goalkeeping as a reason for a small underperformance.

Creatively, Salah has been excellent, providing nine assists and crafting 60 opportunities, but the Reds will need him at his very best in the run-in.

Alexander Isak (17)

Isak was at the double in Newcastle United’s 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham last time out. He has now scored 12 goals in as many Premier League appearances at St James’ Park this season.

His opener against Spurs saw him become the fourth player to score in six consecutive Premier League home matches for Newcastle, with only Andrew Cole (eight) and Alan Shearer (15) having longer such runs, with Isak now level with Les Ferdinand’s best such run. The only other Swede to have netted as many Premier League goals in a single campaign as Isak has this term is the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 17 times for Manchester United in 2016-17.

Only Palmer has a better minutes per goal ratio than Isak (104) of the players on this list, while he has overperformed his xG by 1.1.

Isak has not provided quite as much creatively as others on this list, providing just one assist, but his 28.3 per cent shot conversion rate tops this list by some distance, with Palmer (24.4) next best.

Dominic Solanke (17)

Another player on 17 goals, and the final selection here, is Bournemouth talisman Solanke.

His 18.1 per cent shot conversion rate may short fall of the other stars on this list, but Solanke is having a fantastic season, having become Bournemouth’s top Premier League goalscorer in a single campaign, surpassing Joshua King’s tally of 16 from the 2016-17 season.

Only one of Solanke’s strikes has come from the spot, with the 26-year-old outperforming his 15.7 non-penalty xG, though his minutes per goal ratio of 167 is quite a stark drop-off from most of his Golden Boot rivals.

The Chasing Pack

Former Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min (15), Jarrod Bowen (15), Bukayo Saka (14) and Phil Foden (14) are all well in the hunt.

The fact that 10 players are within six goals of each other shows just how tight this Golden Boot race is shaping up to be, though the chasing pack are running out of time if they are to make a late push for the award.

Cole Palmer has joined Erling Haaland at the top of the Premier League goal-scorer’s chart after adding four more to his tally in Chelsea’s 6-0 thrashing of Everton.

The Chelsea midfielder surged alongside Manchester City goal machine Haaland in the race for the Golden Boot, with both players currently on 20 in the top flight this season.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the top six contenders for the award as the 2023-24 Premier League campaign enters the run-in.

Golden Boot battle

Cole Palmer (Chelsea) – 20 goals in 28 appearances

The 21-year-old’s remarkable first season at Chelsea just keeps getting better. Palmer, who did not score a league goal for Manchester City, has notched 10 in his last five league matches, rocketing into Golden Boot contention.

Erling Haaland (Man City) – 20 goals in 26 appearances

Haaland set the Premier League ablaze in 2022-23, claiming a new record of 36 goals in a season. The 23-year-old started like a train again this season before missing five games with a foot injury. Since returning in January he has scored six in 11 appearances, underwhelming by his standards, but the Norway hit man remains a heavy favourite to retain the Golden Boot.

Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) – 19 goals in 32 appearances

Watkins is enjoying his most prolific season in the top flight, already surpassing his 15 goals from last season, while also providing the most assists (10) of those on this list. The 28-year-old’s current goal conversion rate is better than Haaland’s and he will be hoping to feature for England at the Euros.

Alexander Isak (Newcastle) – 17 goals in 24 appearances

Isak has more than justified Newcastle’s outlay of around £60million after a thigh injury limited his impact in his first campaign at St James’ Park. The 24-year-old is the first Newcastle player since Alan Shearer in 2003-04 to score 20 goals in a season for the club in all competitions.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 17 goals in 26 appearances

Salah has won the Golden Boot on three occasions during his stellar Liverpool career and has scored 20 top-flight goals or more in four of his six previous seasons at the club. The Egypt forward is on course to make that five in seven.

Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth) – 17 goals in 32 appearances

When Solanke struck the opener in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Manchester United he broke the record for the most Premier League goals scored in a single season by a Bournemouth player. The 26-year-old has produced his best form under Andoni Iraola and could force his way into England’s plans for the Euros.

Southgate’s sharp-shooters

Gareth Southgate must be filled with excitement when he looks at the top 10 scorers in the Premier League this season, with six England players on the list.

Palmer only made his England debut in November but his astonishing form for Chelsea must surely earn him a spot in the squad for this summer’s Euro 2024.

Watkins could find himself in a straight shoot-out with Ivan Toney for the spot as back-up striker to Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane, while Solanke has just one England cap to his name back in 2017.

Further down the scoring charts, West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen has enjoyed a stellar campaign with 15 goals while Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden has netted 10 goals since Christmas to take his tally to 14 overall.

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, a certain starter for England in Germany injury permitting, also has 14 goals to further add to England’s firepower.

And when Kane’s 43 goals in all competitions for Bayern and Jude Bellingham’s 22 for Real Madrid are factored in, Southgate’s side are an exciting prospect.

What the papers say

West Ham will join Liverpool, Tottenham and AC Milan in the hunt for 26 -year-old Fulham defender Tosin Adarabioyo, according to the Guardian. The former Manchester City player will be a free agent in summer, but Fulham are hoping to retain his services.

Football Insider says Chelsea are trying to secure the signature of Athletic Bilbao forward Nico Williams for £43million. The 21-year-old Spain international has scored six goals and had 14 assists for Athletic in all competitions this season.

Former Arsenal loanee Dani Ceballos is set to leave Real Madrid for rivals Atletico Madrid as he struggles for game time at the LaLiga leaders, the Sun reports. The 27-year-old Spain midfielder has played just 14 games for the Real Madrid in the league this season, mostly as a substitute.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Mohamed Salah: The 31-year-old Liverpool striker is set to be targeted once again by Saudi Pro League clubs this summer with Al Ittihad reportedly set to offer £70million for the Egypt star, Talksport says.

Lucas Paqueta: French media outlet L’Equipe says Manchester City have agreed to terms with the 26-year-old West Ham midfielder.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has no worries about Mohamed Salah’s misfires in front of goal because he keeps coming up with important moments when they need them most after his second-half winner against Brighton returned the Reds to the top of the Premier League.

Luis Diaz’s volley just before the half-hour allowed the hosts to recover from Brighton striker Danny Welbeck’s opener inside 90 seconds, but the Reds needed a clear head and a clinical touch from their Egypt international to secure a 2-1 victory.

Salah had 12 attempts on goal, his most in a Premier League match and the most on record by a Liverpool player in the competition.

It was also the most by any player in the top flight since Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Burnley more than seven years ago.

Despite the failures, when the excellent Alexis Mac Allister picked him out in the penalty area in the 65th minute, the Egyptian remained composed to deliver what could be an important goal in the title race.

“Imagine Mo would have finished off all the situations in his career? That would be crazy, so it is absolutely fine,” said Klopp.

“We need him to try. Mo, like the others, was a bit in a rush to finish off situations and didn’t do like they can do it.

“But then being that calm in the decisive moment with the biggest chance we had from the best football we played, then that makes a real goalscorer so we are happy with everything.

“Darwin (Nunez) opened up so many spaces, Lucho (Diaz) was incredible, they were all really good today.

“Their centre-halves were outstanding and it was just a really good game today, against an opponent you know it will be the hardest work.

“To defend them needs the highest intensity in English football and we did well.

“It was, from my point of view, the best performance against Roberto’s Brighton. More possession, better possession, a really good rhythm in the game.”

Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi is second favourite with the bookmakers to succeed the departing Klopp at the end of the season and, as far as auditions go, this was a decent effort.

Speculation about the Italian intensified after he revealed in the build-up that contract negotiations were currently on hold, but he insists that does not affect his future.

“I have another two years of contract. To work next season at Brighton I don’t need to extend another year or two years,” he said.

“I can stay and work in Brighton with or without the extension. Nothing has changed.

“At the moment we finished the discussion about the contract, but not because I have decided yet to leave. No, no. My focus is on Brighton this season, the next season.

“But before starting next season I would like to listen to the plan of the team. I think it is a serious thing.”

Despite the defeat, De Zerbi felt his side did as much as they could at Anfield.

“We played against a great team. I think we played well. We played a good game, we conceded too many shots,” he added.

“I think we had the chance to score in the second half, especially in the last 15 minutes, but by then we have to be proud of the performance because playing without seven injured, very important players and competing how we did was great.

“We are sorry for the result, but we showed our best today and we couldn’t do any more.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Mohamed Salah’s relentless drive to score goals will never end.

The Egypt international scored in the 6-1 Europa League demolition of Sparta Prague to bring up his 20th goal of the season, becoming the first player in the club’s history to reach that mark in seven successive campaigns.

“In seven years together with him, the one problem we never had was consistency,” said Klopp after the Egypt international’s first start since New Year’s Day after a hamstring injury.

“Mo is just delivering and delivering and delivering, his desire doesn’t stop, his quality is there and his desire to score doesn’t stop.

“He has improved in so many aspects since he started here. That’s how it is, he will not stop.

“I’m less surprised than maybe some others, I thought it had already happened to be honest, but he was injured for a while, otherwise he would have done it in January or February.

“But great, very good, and great to have him back.”

Salah also provided two assists for Bobby Clark and Cody Gakpo, who scored twice, with Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai also on target.

He completed his first 90 minutes in two months but Klopp admitted he had wanted to rest him earlier.

“It was not the plan he plays 90 minutes, the plan was to take him off when we brought on Mateusz (Musialowski) but Bobby Clark said (he felt something) and Mo is experienced enough that he recovers during the game.

“I told him not to defend any more – I never told a player that before.”

Liverpool progressed to the quarter-finals 11-2 on aggregate after an early blitz ruled out any remote hopes of a comeback from the Czech champions.

“The boys started the game incredibly well and 4-0 up in 14 minutes is really strange. From then on it became a strange game because how can you now stay greedy?” said Klopp.

Sparta boss Brian Priske accepted his side had been totally outclassed.

“Big respect to Liverpool how they played these two legs, the level from Sparta to Liverpool is massive. It is a completely different level,” he said.

“We never faced something like this. Liverpool is a Champions League team and they should be playing in the Champions League.”

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has been left out of the Egypt squad for a fothcoming international friendly tournament.

The 31-year-old left the Africa Cup of Nations early when he picked up a hamstring injury on January 18 against Ghana and suffered a re-injury during a second-half substitute appearance against Brentford on his return.

Salah has been out of action since but returned to training this week and came off the bench in the 74th minute of their 5-1 thrashing of Sparta Prague on Thursday in the Europa League.

The Liverpool top scorer has 19 goals this campaign and his return to fitness sparked a club-versus-country row as Egypt previously rejected Liverpool’s request to exempt their captain from the tournament in Abu Dhabi where they will face New Zealand and either Tunisia or Croatia in the final.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp previously admitted: “Two games with Egypt is really not up to me.

“We want to be careful, we have to be careful but we’re in the middle of a super-intense period of the season and we need everyone.”

But, the Egypt FA have reportedly agreed to reluctantly leave their star man out of the international break and Salah will remain with Liverpool to work on fitness for their title run-in.

Former Liverpool winger Steve McManaman insists allowances have not been made for Darwin Nunez’s introduction to English football and believes his career could follow the trajectory of Mohamed Salah or Kevin De Bruyne.

The Uruguay international will look to end the week on a high against Manchester City at Anfield after scoring a 99th-minute winner against Nottingham Forest and two important goals in the 5-1 Europa League victory over Sparta Prague.

These last few days have showcased the very best of the 24-year-old but he has faced criticism for missing chances, with his performance against Chelsea at the end of January peaking in that regard after he hit the goal frame four times, once from the penalty spot.

Nunez is only in his second season at Anfield and his relatively short career has been nomadic as, after leaving Penarol in Montevideo in 2019, he spent one season at Spanish second-tier side Almeria before moving to Benfica for two years and then switching to Liverpool for a potential £85milllion club-record fee.

He arrived speaking no English and while that has improved, McManaman, who experienced a similar issue learning Spanish when he moved to Real Madrid in 1999, thinks he should be given more leeway.

“He is a young lad learning, he still doesn’t know English fully and that will help when he maintains that level of conversation with his team-mates,” McManaman, now a pundit with TNT Sports, told the PA news agency.

“Because we are English we think everyone should turn up and speak English. It’s ridiculous.

“He has not played a lot of high-profile football. The team before Benfica was a lower league team, then he joined Benfica and a couple of years years later he has joined Liverpool.

“We saw it with De Bruyne at Chelsea, Mo at Chelsea.

“You try to go and live in Uruguay tomorrow and get on with business – it is bloody hard. You need to give them time to settle.

“We need to give him time, definitely, as you cannot judge him over 18 months when he is playing for Liverpool at the very highest level, across world football.

“Good players should improve year-on-year and if that happens he could turn into a fantastic centre-forward.”

Nunez took his goal tally to 16 with his midweek double, only two behind top scorer Salah, and has quietened detractors by hitting his best form at a timely point.

“I think, unfortunately, because of some of his high-profile misses you will have fans shouting at him and singing songs like they did at Forest,” added McManaman, who returned from Spain to play for City in 2003.

“He will miss chances but his recent form: his goal against Brentford (the opener in a 4-1 win) and his goal the other day (against Forest) shows his importance.

“I have every faith in him. I speak to the people at the club who say he works hard and tries to work on his finishing and overall play and hopefully he will get better and better.”

 

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Sunday’s game is another highly anticipated clash between the best two clubs in the Premier League in recent years whose title battles have regularly gone down to the wire, with City pipping their rivals by just a point on two occasions.

However, with almost a quarter of the season remaining, and Arsenal also in the hunt, McManaman does not believe the game will be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the title.

“I don’t think so. City have got Arsenal and Villa but they have got them at home so I fully expect them to win but I don’t think it will be like that season two years ago when they won every single game from January, which was incredible.

“Liverpool have (Manchester) United and Everton coming up so I don’t think it will all ride on this game.

“I don’t think whoever wins wins the league. Maybe it’s not Liverpool-City game but the City-Arsenal game which will knock one of them out.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp praised Darwin Nunez’s attitude after the striker scored twice – including the 1,000th goal of the manager’s reign – in a comfortable 5-1 Europa League victory over Sparta Prague.

The Uruguay international took his tally for the season to 16 – just two behind Mohamed Salah who had a goal disallowed by VAR on his return from injury – with a performance which was a perfect warm-up for Sunday’s visit of Premier League title rivals Manchester City.

After an up-and-down first season following his potential club-record move from Benfica the 24-year-old has found more consistency this season and but for a touch more luck would have been pushing Salah as leading scorer.

“He had absolutely more than (an) OK first season but he had to adapt, that’s done, and he is settled in the middle of the team,” said Klopp after the last-16 first leg which has put them within touching distance of the quarter-finals of the only trophy he has not won in his career.

“Wonderful guy, wonderful boy. He loves to play for this team together with these boys and has quality coming out of his ears, to be honest.

“It’s like strikers are, they score and then they don’t score. Is he at his absolute peak in general? Not now for us. But can he develop? Yes. Is he a threat all the time? Yes.

“He has the most important attitude a striker needs to have; he missed chances but all strikers are doing that but he is not bothered by it and just keeps going.

“That’s why he now has a nice number of goals, games to come, opportunities to come.

“When he’s not scoring he for us is incredibly important as he is a constant threat and gives us spaces in areas and options.”

The only blemish on the night appeared to be an injury to centre-back Ibrahima Konate but Klopp played down the concerns over the defender and said his substitution minutes into the second half was precautionary.

“We don’t know (yet). Ibou said to me when he passed me in that moment ‘I thought if I do another sprint then it could be bad.’ So, he said he should be fine, but we don’t know,” added the manager.

Klopp was afforded the chance to rest a number of players – Virgil van Dijk started on the bench alongside Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai, a late goalscorer, but all got minutes after the break – while also easing back Salah with a gentle quarter-of-an-hour at the end.

He was also able to manage the minutes of some of his more over-worked players with utility man Joe Gomez coming off at half-time, Nunez after 51 minutes and the increasingly important Alexis Mac Allister, who opened the scoring with a sixth-minute penalty, with a quarter of the game to go after Luis Diaz had made the game safe with a fourth goal.

“Joey is fine. We took him off. He played a lot of games so that was more rotation, precaution. Now let’s see what (it) is with Ibou,” said Klopp.

Darwin Nunez scored the 1,000th goal of Jurgen Klopp’s reign in Liverpool’s comfortable 5-1 Europa League win over Sparta Prague but it was not quite the perfect warm-up for Sunday’s title clash with Manchester City after another injury blow.

The Uruguay international finished the last-16 first-leg tie with another on the stroke of half-time but it was his first in the 25th minute which was massively important – and not just because of the landmark it brought up.

Liverpool had been under a sustained spell of pressure after Alexis Mac Allister, taking over penalty duties from Nunez after his failure against Chelsea in January, had put them ahead.

Perhaps spurred on by that snub Nunez – out of nowhere, as is often his inclination – cut in from the left to whip a brilliant 25-yard dipping shot over goalkeeper Peter Vindahl.

His second effectively came when Mac Allister, head and shoulders above everyone else in possession, played a superb ball over the top which his fellow South American lashed across Vindahl and inside the far post.

Luis Diaz scored the fourth and Klopp even had the luxury of giving much-needed minutes to midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai – who scored the fifth – and forward Mohamed Salah on his return to tune them up for the weekend, but the loss of centre-back Ibrahima Konate to injury is another unwanted headache.

The gulf in class in terms of finishing was evident as Sparta, unbeaten at home all season, squandered a number of chances which could have made this much trickier whereas Liverpool were clinical and had plenty in reserve.

When the two sides last met in 2011 Kenny Dalglish’s side played with a back five – which included such luminaries as Danny Wilson and Sotiros Kyrgiakos – with David Ngog leading the line.

The 2024 upgrade was quite considerable even though Klopp made three changes from the last-gasp win at Nottingham Forest with Jarell Quansah, Wataru Endo and Nunez coming in and put Salah on the bench after recovering from a muscle injury which had restricted him to one 46-minute substitute appearance since he suffered an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations mid-January.

It took them just six minutes to score as defender Asger Sorensen was a fraction late with his attempt to win the ball as Mac Allister charged out of midfield on the press.

With Salah absent, the Argentina international converted his ninth spot-kick in 10 attempts for English clubs, having previously scored eight for Brighton.

Sparta’s response was immediate and sustained with Lukas Haraslin placing his shot too close to Caoimhin Kelleher with only the keeper to beat but it still needed Joe Gomez to acrobatically clear off the line.

Konate blocked Angelo Preciado’s shot and then Kelleher tipped over when the Ecuadorian’s header was helped on – but just when the pressure was reaching a peak Liverpool broke the shackles and Nunez doubled their advantage in true maverick style.

However, Sparta’s bold approach in keeping three players high at all times succeeded in causing problems.

Jan Kuchta flicked over before Kelleher parried his shot into the path of Velijko Birmancevic six yards out but his finish was more suited to the circus pitched up across the road from the stadium as he bundled wide of an open goal after kicking the ball against his standing foot.

Cody Gakpo had two chances in quick succession to make the game safe but his shot on the turn was well saved by Vindahl and then he fired straight at the keeper from Diaz’s delightful through ball.

Conor Bradley’s first involvement after replacing Gomez at half-time in a pre-arranged swap was to divert Birmancevic’s cross into his own net seconds after the restart and the unmarked Haraslin was crowded out by Kelleher.

The chaotic start to the second half continued when Konate was injured and replaced by Virgil van Dijk, with Szoboszlai coming on for Nunez.

Diaz’s deflected 53rd-minute toepoke eventually put the game to bed before Salah had a goal ruled by VAR and Szoboszlai scored with the last kick of the game – however, Manchester City will not be so accommodating at Anfield.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has travelled to the Czech Republic for the Europa League last-16 first leg against Sparta Prague after returning to training.

The Egypt international’s presence on the flight from Merseyside is particularly significant in the context of the week with Premier League title rivals Manchester City due at Anfield on Sunday.

Salah has played just 46 minutes since leaving the African Cup of Nations early with a hamstring injury on January 18.

Those came in one substitute appearance against Brentford in mid-February, following which the 31-year-old was sidelined after what manager Jurgen Klopp said was muscle fatigue.

Klopp has taken his strongest available squad to Prague, having been afforded the relative luxury of five days between matches, and that means the likes of Darwin Nunez and Wataru Endo, both substitutes for the weekend’s win at Nottingham Forest, are likely to start.

However, 18-year-old striker Jayden Danns, who scored twice in last week’s FA Cup win over Southampton, has not travelled due to a concussion issue after Saturday’s game.

Sparta coach Brian Priske admits he does not know which side Klopp will field but is not focusing on individuals.

“Liverpool are playing great this season and my boys will have their hands full,” he told a press conference.

“It is also difficult to predict who will start for them, considering the size and quality of their squad.

“However, we’re more interested in their style of play than specific personnel.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp feels he needs “miracles” to get a number of his injured players back sooner rather than later.

Midfielder Ryan Gravenberch was the latest to be ruled out – for at least two matches – after he was carried off on a stretcher in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final victory over Chelsea.

But Wataru Endo is also a doubt for Wednesday’s FA Cup visit of Championship high-flyers Southampton after he left Wembley on crutches and wearing a protective boot, which would take the number of first-teamers unavailable to 13.

And Klopp admitted veteran midfielder Thiago Alcantara – who has made one five-minute substitute appearance since April – may not play again for the club as his contract expires in the summer.

Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai are closest to returning, but they may not be risked in the cup.

“We need miracles with a few players,” Klopp said. “I don’t want to rule them out for too long.

“But it is touch and go with a lot of players who were not available for the final: Darwin, Mo, Dom – we have to see what they can do (on Tuesday).

“In an ideal world you’d think about these kind of things but we obviously don’t live in an ideal world so we will see when the players arrive and they get checked.

“When the players arrive and I can look in their eyes and see who might be ready then I will make the line-up.”

Klopp is likely to have to rely on a number of the younger players who made such an impression at Wembley, with 19-year-olds Bobby Clark, son of former Newcastle midfielder Lee, and James McConnell likely to start against Saints.

Although the pair have made just one start apiece in cup competitions this season, Klopp has total faith in their ability to step up in the team’s hour of need – although he urged fans to make allowances for them.

“First and foremost, they don’t have to show anything. Our boys played in youth teams and under-21s and only came up recently and trained with us: absolutely nil experience but a lot of talent and they showed that,” he added.

“If you play more of them (against Southampton) from the start and we have a look and think, ‘Hmm, they are not as good as I thought on Sunday’, that would be horrendous so there is absolutely no pressure.

“All what these boys have to do is to really enjoy what they are doing. They have to defend like men, otherwise they cannot play.

“I saw them doing that (on Sunday) and it obviously helped and it gave confidence and there are so many things you cannot buy. Usually you need years for getting these kind of experiences that they got in a flash.

“It’s possible and a few of them have to start, that is clear, and if they do they will do the job and we all have to help them with celebrating the right things and not moaning about the wrong things.”

Following the capture of a record-extending 10th League Cup on Sunday, Liverpool have made tentative moves regarding an end-of-season parade.

It is not something they would not usually do for a victory in that competition but they want to mark the end of Klopp’s nine-year reign this summer.

“That is the one part which is not so cool that it could be seen as that (a farewell to him)” he said. “I don’t think that makes sense.

“But besides that, I am a big supporter of trophy parades and if there is a parade I will be on the bus, no doubt about that.”

Liverpool’s 2022 Carabao Cup final hero Caoimhin Kelleher will be more than happy to stay out of the limelight at Wembley.

The Republic of Ireland international scored what turned out to be the winning spot-kick after a goalless final against Sunday’s opponents Chelsea in an epic shoot-out which finished 11-10 when Kelleher’s opposite number Kepa Arrizabalaga blazed over, the only failure from either side.

It was fitting for the Irishman, who has been Liverpool’s League Cup goalkeeper for the last few seasons, but he would prefer a quieter afternoon this time around.

“To be fair, I was just in the moment. I didn’t even realise it was my go and I looked at the lads and they were pointing at me,” said Kelleher.

“I didn’t have much to think so I just ended up smashing it in.”

Asked whether he had practised his penalties again he added: “I’ve done bits and bobs but I’m hoping we win it in the 90 minutes. I think it’s easier for the fans.

“I have great memories from the cup. I think the clear thing will be the penalty, that is a really nice moment.

“Then after Chelsea missed their penalty, our celebration with the fans and the team was a special moment and one I’ll never forget and hopefully we can recreate something similar on Sunday.

“It was a good experience to look back on but I’m just trying to focus on getting good results.”

Kelleher is set for his longest run in the team as first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who has already missed the last three matches with a hamstring injury, is sidelined until after next month’s international break.

As back-up the 25-year-old has never played more than three consecutive games for the club but, after a similar run in November and December when Alisson was injured, he now has a chance to play a big part in the quest for silverware as the club continue to fight on four fronts.

“It can only help having a run of games as it gets you in a good rhythm and it fills me with confidence playing week in, week out,” he added.

“It’s good for me as I can get that rhythm and that relationship with the team. It can only help.”

Alisson is one of a significant number of absences, which includes Trent Alexander-Arnold, Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones, with Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai facing late fitness tests.

Liverpool’s midweek win over Luton showed how much their resources were stretched, with three defenders and five academy players on the bench, but assistant manager Pep Lijnders said there would be no excuses made.

“I think the good thing we always did in the past is look at what we have,” he said.

“It’s also good in life to just accept what you have and don’t look (at) what you don’t have, so that’s what we are trying to do.

“It brought us success in the past, so we try to keep that up.

“This season is a season where we created already three or four new teams in one season – that didn’t happen a lot in the last years.

“It’s a compliment for our squad, it’s a compliment for the academy.”

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk admits the team was probably guilty of trying too hard to compensate for the absence of a host of star players in the 4-1 victory over Luton.

Forwards Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah were the latest added to an absentee list, which had grown to 11 senior players and left manager Jurgen Klopp short of options, certainly of match-winners, as his bench comprised three defenders and four academy players.

The likes of Harvey Elliott and Cody Gakpo, and to a lesser extent Luis Diaz, all struggled up front in the first half, but four goals in an impressive second-half comeback after going behind in the 12th minute re-established a four-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.

Klopp’s side have won now 22 points from losing positions this season, more than any other team.

“First half with the very first chance (for Diaz) we could have changed the game, but we were a bit rushed in the final third,” said Van Dijk.

“Obviously the way we turned it around was credit to the boys.

“Staying calm is the most difficult thing to do, especially in the situation where we are at; everyone wants to show themselves and play their best game ever, and you have to try to stay calm and find the right solution.

“The first half was a bit rushed and that’s why we struggled a little bit in that sense. Being 1-0 down is never nice, but the way we bounced back is good to see.”

Elliott, on his 100th appearance, scored the team’s 100th goal of the season with the late fourth to end his night on a high after coming in for some vociferous criticism from the crowd.

However, Klopp – who remonstrated with a fan who appeared to target Elliott after yet another pass went astray in the first half – defended the 20-year-old.

“Top performance. And Harvey is a top player; 100 games for Liverpool FC in not the worst period of the club’s history, where you cannot afford players who (just) play the position, that’s a proper sign,” he added.

“He had not a great first half. There was a pass with Lucho (Diaz); I saw he wants to play the pass instead of maybe he can go in a one-on-one situation.

“But the reaction in the second half is the main difference, that’s the thing. That made this performance the performance and I’m so happy for him.

“I don’t lose patience in these moments, I know that it’s a challenge for young boys.

“When everything is great, they are super talents. When things don’t go well, you have to show up. And that’s what he’s learning more and more.

“And with 100 games under his belt, we all know he will definitely play another 100, 200, 300 – if you ask him, 500 – for this club.”

Mohamed Salah scored on his Premier League return as Liverpool eased to a 4-1 win at Brentford.

Coming off the bench for his first appearance since injuring a hamstring on duty with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations, he netted his side’s third goal moments after making a brilliant assist for Alexis Mac Allister to make it 2-0.

Darwin Nunez had opened the scoring with a superbly-taken chip to cap a wonderful counter attack in the first half as Jurgen Klopp’s league leaders ensure they would finish the weekend still on top.

Ivan Toney continued his goalscoring form since returning from his gambling ban to briefly give Brentford hope at 3-1.

It was a fleeting moment of optimism, quickly extinguished when substitute Cody Gakpo stroked home Liverpool’s fourth in the closing minutes.

Mohamed Salah will be the Liverpool player to watch as Jurgen Klopp leaves the club, with Stephen Warnock wondering if the superstar winger's sale might represent "an opportunity" in the Anfield rebuild.

Hugely popular Liverpool manager Klopp announced last week this season will be his last at Liverpool, departing after almost nine years on Merseyside.

Klopp's coaching staff are following him out of the club, while sporting director Jorg Schmadtke is to exit at the end of the January transfer window.

The shock announcement of Klopp's decision leaves Liverpool with lots to do before the next campaign, and calls may have to be made around some of the key men who have made the manager's tenure such a success.

For Warnock, who played for the Reds under Rafael Benitez, Salah's situation is particularly interesting.

The prolific winger has previously been linked with a move to the Saudi Pro League, and his contract expires in 2025.

"I think more so Salah than anyone," Warnock told Stats Perform. "Just because of the age, the Saudi interest... what does he now do?

"Who comes into the football club as manager? What do they see this position as? Do they think it's an opportunity to cash in and maybe rebuild a little bit more and add more quality to the quality that's already there?"

Liverpool might consider their options, but the same is true of Salah and his team-mates, who Warnock expects to be "absolutely devastated" by Klopp's announcement.

"There's not many more managers that you'd want to work for," he added. "If you could have a choice of managers to pick the phone up, he's in your top five, isn't he? Of managers in world football, arguably your top two.

"So, when you look at it like that from a player's point of view, they'll be absolutely devastated, because they know they're working with arguably one of the best managers in world football, then who comes in to replace him?"

That is a concern for the end of the season, though, and in the meantime, Liverpool have the opportunity to send Klopp out on a high as they pursue four trophies, including another Premier League title.

"There is a job to be done," Warnock said. "It's not a swansong and just a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. This is you going for a Premier League title.

"But you're also going up against top teams. You're going up against Manchester City, who've got arguably one of the best managers in world football and probably the best squad and team of players.

"So, there's a job at hand to do as well. Whether it inspires the team or not, we'll never know, because they were in the race anyway, but it might just give them that little extra boost that they need."

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