Roberto Firmino

Salah, Alisson and others returning to Liverpool this week

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Despite Liverpool’s poor run of results during the preseason, Jurgen Klopp says he’s not very concerned.

That’s because Liverpool, more than most other teams it seems this year, has been without a dozen key players all preseason, and others who arrived a week or two late after international duty following the Premier League season. However, that all changes on Monday.

Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Alisson, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri are all returning to preseason work as Liverpool heads to Evian, France to continue warm-weather training. Liverpool has just a week before facing Manchester City in the FA Community Shield, and then another week before the start of the season. It’s unlikely that the quintet returning this week – with Sadio Mane set to return next week – will be ready to go for the start of the Premier League season, but it can potentially give the team a mental lift to see many of the team’s stars back in the squad for daily training sessions.

​“The lads coming back, even if they don’t play, it gives you a lift when they train and with the way they go about their business,” Liverpool left back Andy Robertson told the club’s website. “It doesn’t matter if they play on Wednesday or not, that’s completely up to the manager three days in, but that’s irrelevant: if they’re back in training and back around the place then it makes a difference.

“Mo and Bobby are two of our main men and Alisson was magnificent last season. They are huge characters in the changing room as well so that’ll be massive for us, and then Sadio will come back the following week. Once we get the whole team back together, and I think Shaq and Naby aren’t far off too, they’re players that are familiar around the set-up and around the system and that’s what we need. The quicker we get all of us back together then hopefully the better.”

Without many of the top attackers, some young players for Liverpool have been playing plenty. Aside from players like Divock Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain building fitness, Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster have received regular minutes. In addition, new signings Harvey Elliot, who just signed officially for Liverpool in the morning, and summer signing Sepp van den Berg each saw the field against Napoli. While they likely won’t play much this Premier League season, they may be called upon to at least be on the bench early on.

Klopp referred to this preseason, with so many stars missing, as a strange one.

“It’s kind of a new situation, but that’s not the reason what’s happened,” Klopp said. “Missing six players is strange. That you lose players during a pre-season, we are used to – that happened from time to time. But that they don’t start from the beginning and come a couple of days before or after we start with the season is not cool. Again, that’s how it is and we prepared everybody as good as possible. We have to fight the start of the season 100 per cent with all we have. The good thing is, if the opponents want to analyse us now, they think ‘easy job’, but we will be a different animal next week.”

Copa America: Firmino, Jesus lead Brazil past Argentina

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Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino both had a goal and an assist as Brazil advanced to the Copa America Final with a 2-0 defeat of Argentina at the Mineirão on Tuesday.

It means Lionel Messi misses out on his chance to lead Argentina to a trophy for the first time since he helped the U-23 side win gold at the 2008 Olympics.

Brazil moves on Sunday’s final to face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Peru and two-time reigning champions Chile.

Argentina and Colombia will co-host the tournament next summer.

[ USWNT: Match recap | 3 things ]

Dani Alves led the charge for the opener, slipping Firmino into the box. The Liverpool man found his Man City compatriot for the 1-0 advantage.

Brazil controlled the first half but was under the knife in the second half as Messi attempted to rally La Albiceleste.

But Jesus led a lightning counter attack and slid a ball across the 18 to Firmino for an easy goal and a two-marker advantage.

Brazil needs penalty kicks to oust 10-man Paraguay (video)

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Alisson Becker was the hero in penalty kicks after hosts Brazil failed to break down 10-man Paraguay at the Copa America on Thursday.

Paraguay eliminated Brazil from the 2011 and 2015 editions of the tournament in penalty kicks.

[ MORE: Mbappe worth the price ]

Brazil outshot Paraguay 26-5, and will face the winners of Argentina and Venezuela in the semifinals.

Gatito Fernandez made 13 saves in the loss.

Fabian Balbuena’s 58th minute red card complicated the matter for Paraguay, but the underdogs held out for kicks.

Alisson saved the first penalty of the round, and Willian gave Brazil its advantage.

Roberto Firmino slapped a right-footed shot wide, but Derlis Gonzalez did the same and Brazil held on for a semifinal spot.

Three key battles in the Champions League Final

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There are only two differences in the Liverpool lineups that beat Spurs 2-1 home and away this season.

Naby Keita and Joe Gomez started the September tilt at Wembley Stadium, while Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip started at Anfield.

[ MORE: Champions League story lines ]

Spurs on the other hand played a back four at Wembley with three center backs in the reverse fixture, wing backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier pushed up high and wide.

Might we see the latter again in Madrid? One of those pieces begins this examination of the three (plus one) factors in Saturday’s Champions League Final.

Kieran Trippier versus Sadio Mane

Mane scored 22 goals this season, but failed to manage one against Spurs whether Trippier was lined up at right back or as more of a right wing back.

All-in-all, the dangerous-crossing Trippier is a better defender than his reputation suggests, but Mane is about as explosive an attacking talent as there is in England.

This battle may be the one that settles the tie.

Roberto Firmino versus Toby Alderweireld

Sure, this also could read Firmino v. Spurs’ defense, but “Bobby’s” two goals against Spurs this season were his first in six matches against the Reds.

Like Harry Kane for Spurs, Firmino is coming off an injury. While still quite good, the Brazilian center forward’s production and effectiveness have both dipped this season.

Perhaps it’s absurd to expect him to be a wrecking ball in consecutive Champions League seasons, but his dip in that competition was especially significant. Firmino arguably was the number one reason Liverpool ran through its forgiving slate last season, scoring 10 goals with 7 assists and drawing a penalty. This year, it’s just four goals with a helper.

Alderweireld, meanwhile, has been fine but not spectacular for Spurs. The big Belgian will hope Firmino is less than 100 percent.

Jurgen Klopp versus himself

There are few men in the world with the self-confidence of Jurgen Klopp, but the Reds’ boss enters his latest final holding the proverbial clipboard for the unabashed favorites.

When a man has lost his last three European finals, there’s reason to question how he may try to out-fox himself in the role of favorite. It’s also worth noting that the virtue of getting to a fourth European final says a lot about a managerial skill set.

Where Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is very much playing with house money, Klopp has yet to lift a piece of silverware as Liverpool boss. Perception of him is unlikely to change too much with a loss, but a win would have him an Anfield all-timer.

The stage can do wild things to a man, even when that man has spent plenty of time on that stage.

BONUS: Harry Kane versus his ankle

Yeah, this is cheating, but the Englishman’s fitness is the X-factor of the UCL Final. Virgil Van Dijk has the goods to deal with a fully fit Kane, but if he’s simply tasked with managing a half-ready decoy? Well, that’s big stuff.

Still, Kane’s 1-4-4 record against Spurs doesn’t have a ton to do with his scoring record, as he’s managed five goals and two assists in those matches. If he’s ready to go, Spurs obviously have a much better chance at glory.

Salah, Firmino ruled out due to injury

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Liverpool’s task against Barcelona just got even tougher.

Trailing 3-0 from the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal at the Nou Camp, Jurgen Klopp will now be without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the second leg at Anfield on Tuesday.

Salah suffered a heavy blow to the head which led to a concussion in the 3-2 win at Newcastle on Saturday, while Firmino suffered a reaction to a recent groin/thigh injury after coming on late against Barca last week.

“Two of the world’s best strikers are not available tomorrow night and we have to score four goals,” said Klopp. “It doesn’t make life easier but as long as we will try for 90 minutes to celebrate the Champions League campaign to give it a proper finish. That’s the plan. If we can do it, wonderful. If we can’t do it, let’s fail in the most beautiful way.”

Overhauling a 3-0 deficit is a long shot, especially without two key strikers, as Sadio Mane is set to be joined up top by two from Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge or Xherdan Shaqiri. Origi, Shaqiri and Sturridge have all had their moments this season, but replacing Salah and Firmino is almost impossible.

The big question remains if either Salah or Firmino will be fit for the final day of the season on Sunday, as Liverpool host Wolves knowing a win could seal their first league title in 29 years.

Klopp revealed Salah could be fit for the season finale, as his concussion could be over in the next few days, but there is no chance he will be risked to play against Barcelona.

“It’s not good enough from a medical point of view,” Klopp said about Salah. “He is desperate to play but we cannot do it. It’s a concussion. That means he would not even be allowed to play.”