Paul Lambert does not think Mohamed Salah is yet on a par with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Stoke are the latest side in the Egyptian’s sights as he looks to continue his record-breaking season. Salah netted his 42nd and 43rd goals of the campaign in the 5-2 Champions League victory against Roma on Tuesday and is the leading marksman in Europe.
But Lambert believes the consistent excellence of Messi and Ronaldo puts them on another level.
The Stoke boss said: “The season he’s had has been phenomenal but I still think the best players on the planet are Ronaldo and Messi. The reason I say that is because they have done it season after season. But I don’t think anybody could have predicted the season Salah has had.”
Talk of Salah potentially becoming the first Premier League player in a decade to win the Ballon d’Or has been growing, with Ronaldo and Messi having won it five times each over the last 10 years.
“He must be in the running, but again, he’s in an era with those two in front of him, so it’s incredibly tough,” said Lambert.
It is safe to say, though, that the Potters manager would not be disappointed if Salah was rested with the second leg against Roma in mind, and Lambert gave a warning to opposite number Jurgen Klopp about the treatment his players can expect.
Stoke head to Anfield desperate for three points in their increasingly futile-looking fight against relegation.
Lambert said: “Is 5-2 retrievable? Yes, it is, whereas 5-0 maybe not. So Jurgen might think it’s a game they have to watch because we can’t be shrinking violets. We have to be ready for it and be aggressive ourselves so whether we see Salah or not I don’t know.”
Salah netted twice against Stoke in the reverse fixture, and Liverpool’s forward trio of the Egyptian, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have tormented defences far less porous than Stoke’s this season.
But Lambert insisted his players will not be cowed, saying: “You’re confident in yourself. I never went into a game thinking I was inferior to somebody else. I never did it in my own career and I won’t do it as a manager.”
It will be Lambert’s first Premier League clash with Klopp but the two know each other well. They share common history in Borussia Dortmund and did the UEFA Pro Licence together in 2004.
Lambert used his German contacts when he faced Klopp’s Liverpool in the FA Cup last season with Wolves and it paid off as the Championship club claimed a shock victory.
He said: “I spoke to people because I knew that Borussia Dortmund were pressing all over the pitch and had the legs to do that. I just had to find a way to try and hurt them when I could.
“I go way back with Jurgen. He was exactly the same, same guy, charismatic and just what you see now. He hasn’t changed.”
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