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Jürgen Klopp defends Mohamed Salah’s form after Liverpool crashes out of Europa League

By Ben Church, CNN

(CNN) — Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said he was “disappointed” to see his side knocked out of the Europa League quarterfinals against Atalanta on Thursday, but insisted talisman Mohamed Salah was not to blame.

Liverpool couldn’t overcome the 3-0 deficit from the first leg, winning 1-0 in Italy but losing 3-1 on aggregate.

Salah had converted a penalty in the seventh minute to give his side hope of an unlikely comeback, but the English Premier League side failed to make the most of its dominance in large portions of the game.

Salah himself missed a glorious chance to put his side 2-0 up in the first half, getting his lobbed finish all wrong after catching Atalanta goalkeeper Juan Musso off his line.

It’s the latest in a long run of missed chances, with the Egyptian failing to rediscover his clinical form after sustaining a muscle injury at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

Had he scored it, which he probably should have, Liverpool would have piled pressure on Atalanta which was forced to defend resolutely for much of the first half.

“I am not particularly concerned,” Klopp told reporters when asked about Salah’s recent form.

“That’s what strikers do, that’s what happens to strikers, that’s how it is. We have to go through this, he has to go through that. He is one of the most experienced players we have in the squad. We will go through that but that’s pretty much all.

“It’s not that Mo [Salah] didn’t miss chances before in his life, that’s a part of the game. The penalty was super-convincing, a super penalty, then the next chance, that was obviously unlucky but it is not the first time he missed a chance like that.”

After Klopp announced his decision to step down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season, many involved with the club had hoped to send off the 56-year-old German with another European trophy.

Fans had earmarked the Europa League final in Dublin, Ireland, as Klopp’s potential last game in charge, but those plans came crashing down on a frustrating night in Italy.

Klopp insisted the game was not lost in the return leg, but in the disappointing 3-0 defeat at Anfield last week.

“It’s very easy to congratulate Atalanta because they deserved to go through. When you win a tie against us 3-1, especially in this way, you deserve to go through, absolutely,” added Klopp after his last Euorpean game in charge of Liverpool.

Elsewhere on Thursday, fellow Premier League side West Ham crashed out of the Europa League quarterfinals after losing 3-1 on aggregate to Bayer Leverkusen.

It followed the defeats suffered by Arsenal and Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday, meaning there will be no English team in the semifinals of either competition for the first time since the 2014/15 season, per Opta.

English Premier League title race

With such disappointment in Europe for English clubs, all attention now turns back to the Premier League title race.

After Liverpool and Arsenal suffered shock defeats on Sunday, reigning champion Manchester City moved top of the table and look favorites to go on to win the title.

But with both Arsenal and Liverpool just two points behind, there is all to play for with just six games remaining.

Klopp, hoping to leave Liverpool with the perfect present of a league title, said his side can now fully focus on the remainder of the campaign. It faces Fulham in its next league game on Sunday.

“We have a few days to recover, we will do that, and then will travel the day after tomorrow to London and will play Fulham, which will be tricky but we will give our absolute all. That’s our competition now,” he said.

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