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kop clearout Time for Jurgen Klopp to flog Firmino while Salah sale remains an a real option

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Roberto Firmino's lack of goals has been a real problem for Liverpool this season

Roberto Firmino's lack of goals has been a real problem for Liverpool this season

Roberto Firmino's lack of goals has been a real problem for Liverpool this season

JURGEN Klopp has not made too many mistakes in his time as Liverpool manager, but he picked the wrong striker to start the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid.

I have done my best to back Roberto Firmino on the pages of the Sunday World over the last couple of years.

But he should not have started the second leg against the Spanish side last Wednesday.

Klopp, as a manager, is very loyal to the players who have brought so many trophies to Liverpool in recent years.

Yet, this was surely a moment when the German had to go with the man in form and start Diogo Jota.

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 Mo Salah missed several clear-cut chances against Real Madrid

Mo Salah missed several clear-cut chances against Real Madrid

Mo Salah missed several clear-cut chances against Real Madrid

The Portuguese ace has been in great form for club and country since his return from injury, and on a night when Liverpool needed goals to try to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit, Jota needed to be on from the start.

Instead, we got what has become the familiar performance from Firmino, with his lack of goals exposed by the alarming dip in form we have also seen from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

When Salah and Mane were scoring 30 goals a season each, Firmino’s scoring rate was not a problem.

But that is not the case right now – and it means Firmino is not the centre-forward Liverpool need to challenge for the biggest prizes in the game.

This trio will forever be remembered as the forward line that won Liverpool’s sixth European Cup and brought the Premier League title to Anfield after a 30-year wait.

However, the time has come to break them up.

Some of the things I’m seeing from Mane make no sense, with his negative body language and lack of confidence an issue that has affected Liverpool all season.

Salah has also been off the pace, but the impressive number of goals he has still managed is evidence of his class, even when he is playing at 60 per cent.

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Then you look at Jota, who has a totally different demeanour when he comes on to the field, with the hunger you need to reach the top in this game evident in his each and every step.

This is no longer a dip in form for the trio as they have been out of sorts all season, with the problems at the front end of the team now as big an issue for Liverpool as their defensive injuries.

Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak have done a decent job in the last month, and they helped to deliver the clean sheet Liverpool needed if they were to have a chance to get back into the quarter-final against Real Madrid.

Yet, the cutting edge that was Liverpool’s most fearsome quality, as they became the best team in the world for a year or so, is not there any more. And Klopp needs to come up with a plan to reboot his team.

Liverpool need a top-class striker to replace Firmino, a dynamic midfielder and a quality centre-back in the upcoming transfer window, but recent history tells us the cash to make those signings may be hard to come by.

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Sadio Mane has been a pale shadow of his former self this season

Sadio Mane has been a pale shadow of his former self this season

Sadio Mane has been a pale shadow of his former self this season

Liverpool’s owners showed in January that they are not ready to splash the cash, so selling players to finance new arrivals may be the route they follow once again.

This was the method followed by the club’s owners when they sold Luiz Suarez and Philippe Coutinho – and it worked out well, with some shrewd recruitment taking Liverpool to the top.

Now they need to look at the players they don’t need, and maybe even consider a sale of one of their big-hitters to raise funds, as this team is clearly in need of some fresh blood.

I suspect Joel Matip, Marko Grujic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Harry Wilson, Naby Keita and Divock Origi will all be made available for sale by Liverpool this summer – if Firmino was added to that list, it would generate funds of around £100m.

There may also be a decision to make over Salah’s future, as he has not tried to hide his interest in a move to Real Madrid.

If they were to sell a player of Salah’s stature, Klopp would have a big transfer kitty to work with and he will need to bring Liverpool back to the top.

Of course, being in the Champions League next season will have a big role in what happens from this point forward and, while Liverpool are on a downer after their exit to Real Madrid, they have to lift themselves for the big game at Leeds tomorrow.

Finishing in the top four is a must for Klopp and his players. And Leeds will be tough opponents, with their efforts on the opening weekend of the season, in a 4-3 defeat at Anfield, setting the tone for what they have brought to the Premier League.

With Chelsea still involved in the FA Cup and Champions League, their fixture congestion may play into Liverpool’s hands. Seven wins to end the season will probably be enough to secure a top-four finish.

Yet, having watched this Liverpool team go from such a high last season to such a massive slump over the last few months, I don’t have too much confidence in them achieving that target of 21 points over the next month.

Klopp has to find a way to get his team through these next seven games and hope they end up with enough points to scrape over the finishing line and qualify for the Champions League, because any hope of signing players like Erling Haaland will go out the window if they are not in the big competition next season.

It’s a looming disaster that was unimaginable when they started this season as champions of England and the team everybody feared. That aura has now gone, and they are in need of some outside help – that means big decisions have to be made.

If that means selling players such as Firmino or Salah to generate the funds needed to sign players who have the hunger and desire to put Liverpool back on course, Klopp has to be bold and make that move.

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