Exclusive: Jason McAteer talks title race, Mo Salah contract & Luis Diaz in Liverpool Q&A

Former Liverpool player Jason McAteer believes the title race is far from over this season, and has predicted that Mohamed Salah will remain at the club despite ongoing contract speculation.

Speaking to Anfield Watch in an exclusive Q&A, the former Reds player covered a wide set of topics including Luis Diaz's arrival, the futures of Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi and Joe Gomez, and his prediction for the League Cup final against Chelsea at the end of this month.

Watch the full interview below or read on for a full transcript...

Can Liverpool catch Manchester City in the title race?

I get this question all the time, I just don't know why people think it's a foregone conclusion.

I think if you looked at the table, obviously, a few weeks ago, it did look a bit daunting before, but you still have the games in hand and obviously, we've played one of them now, and Man City have dropped points against Southampton and, if Liverpool win the other game in hand it's down to six points. That's still very doable.

The Champions League is going to restart and we've seen a vulnerable City against Southampton which we'll see again.

Towards the back end of the season, teams are fighting for all different things, whether it's European places, relegation, and they're going to want positive results.

Anytime you're going to play Norwich, Leeds, Everton, you know it's going to be so tough.

The six points is very, very doable. I think if you get to the realms of 12, 14 points against City with 10, 12 games to go, I think that's when the mountain becomes too big to climb.

How far can Liverpool go in the Champions League?

I personally think they can win it.

The realistic threats are City over two legs, as Pep hasn't won it there yet.

PSG obviously have all the stars but it's whether over two legs, they can produce really top performances as a team, rather than individuals.

And then Bayern Munich but I feel with them when they wrap up the Bundesliga and then they get to the back end of the Champions League and it's whether they're mentally actually on it. Sometimes they're guilty of falling by the wayside because they're just not mentally in tuned.

In terms of potential winners, I'm going to go anyone from Liverpool, Bayern and City, and then a potential outsider in Ajax.

What lessons can Liverpool take from the draw at Chelsea ahead of the League Cup final?

It was a world class goal wasn't it, to get them back into it. That's what makes this game remarkable. So much talent on show. Sometimes when you have that much talent on the pitch, you can cancel each other out. The two draws that we've been witness to in the Premier League this season have been both entertaining games.

Both games could have gone either way. Fair play to Chelsea for rolling their sleeves up and getting back into it.

From a Liverpool point of view, it was obviously disappointing to lose more points from a winning position, which is something Jurgen is going to be working on.

I think in six draws, five have been from a winning position, which is quite uncharacteristic from a Liverpool point of view. Cup finals are great occasions and there'll be some players who've never played in a domestic final at Wembley, so that'll come into it as well with nerves, but I fully expect it to be an open game.

I don't think either team will change tactics. I think both teams will be extremely strong with lots of quality on the pitch so I see goals. I see Liverpool nicking it just for the extra experience of being in cup finals.

Luis Diaz has joined the club, how do you see him fitting into the side?

I don't think he's been brought in to replace anybody. I think it's to alleviate the pressure and the workload on the front four.

You look at Salah and Mane and their numbers again this season have been phenomenal. But they're still at AFCON so you've got to take that into account towards the backend of the season that they're going to probably run out of steam and that's going to be accommodated by changing the team.

We can't rely just on Jota Firmino. Minamino is a bit-part player and Origi has been in and out the team so you can't really rely on him to start three or four games.

So it was an area that needed to strengthen, possibly it was a deal to be done at the end of the season, but I think Tottenham maybe forced Liverpool's hand.

He's an exciting player in a rich vein of form with 14 goals in 18 games. I think he's been quite quiet on that front over the last couple of seasons so he's not been as prolific as maybe what we thought, but this season he certainly has had a purple patch so maybe he's growing in confidence and experience.

What do you think the future holds for Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi?

It comes down to ambition. Jurgen has got a lot of players and I think that's the secret of a really good manager, with the man-management of the players that aren't in the team. He accommodates a lot of players by giving them game time in domestic cup competitions.

He's managed to keep everyone happy but ambition comes from the player. Does Origi want to play another bit part next season, or does he want to go out and sort of fulfill some ambition?

Minamino is a good squad player but he's not going to break into the first team so does he now want to go out? That's down to them personally.

I'm sure Jurgen is happy to keep them and call on them when they're needed so I think it's down to the person and what they want to do.

Joe Gomez was linked with a move away in January but has stayed, what do you think the future holds for him?

He's still got youth on his side. And having watched Liverpool over the period Jurgen has been there I did get the impression it was Joe and Virgil van Dijk who were the two first choice centre-backs. He'd just been in his own zone, looking for that consistency and the two that we're going to play more often than not.

I'm desperately disappointed for Joe. He just doesn't seem to be able to keep himself fit where he can stay in the team and say to the manager, 'I'm your long-term choice alongside Virgil.'

And in that respect, he's missed his opportunity. And from that, Joel [Matip's] taken it with two hands. And I think Konate coming in has pushed Joel to another level. I think they've managed Joel brilliantly this year. Obviously, he's worked a lot on his own fitness and keeping himself fit and his performances have been phenomenal - I would say probably better than Virgil this season,

It's pushed Joe Gomez to probably fourth choice and he'll be thinking, 'Where does that leave me? I don't want to just be playing in cup competitions.'

That'll again be down to his personal ambition but as far as he's Jurgen's concerned he'll really want to keep all four. Having players like Konate and Gomez waiting in the wings is great for a manager.

What do you make of the Mohamed Salah contract situation?

There's a little bit of cat and mouse in all honesty. I think you've got Mo sitting there saying, 'I've got a year left of my contract and I want x amount of money and if you don't give it to me, then you know what can happen. But from a Liverpool point of view, it's like, 'well, where are you going to go?'

Barcelona and Real Madrid probably haven't got the funds that you want. PSG with the signings that they've made and Financial Fairplay kicking in, is that a realistic option? Possibly not. So where does that leave him? Bayern Munich possibly and of the British clubs, City and Chelsea are probably the only other two that you would say probably could afford him and give him that kind of wages.

But is he going to go there and destroy his legacy of being a Liverpool great. Some are saying he's been the best Liverpool player ever so if he was going to go to City, he's going to destroy that legacy. So I'm not sure whether that commercially is great for either.

So I do think there's a bit of cat and mouse about.

Who's got £400,000 to be giving him? I don't know. I do think there's a bit of cat and mouse. I think Liverpool do want to keep him and the numbers he has racked up has been phenomenal.

Why would you want him to leave? He is getting into that age bracket where it's outside of maybe the blueprints of FSG, but he's arguably the greatest player in the world at the minute. So you've got to take that into consideration. I personally think he'll stay. I think they'll find a common ground.

I think he wants to stay. I just think he wants his worth.

What do you make of the Premier League winter break and do you think teams you played in would have benefitted from one?

We always wondered why we didn't have one, as all the other leagues started to bring one in but we didn't.

Very traditionally we understood around Christmas time and New Year's time that games needed to be played and we didn't know any different so we were up for that but we always did wonder why there wasn't a bit of a break and obviously, it never came.

The fixtures weren't as thick and fast as they are now so maybe that's why it wasn't brought in but yeah it would have been nice to have one, especially around the wintertime when it's freezing and you know, you look at them now, they're all in Dubai enjoying themselves!

The winter World Cup comes along later this year, what are your thoughts on the event and could it impact Liverpool's 22/23 season?

Yeah, I don't think it will do too much to the season. I think it's the right thing to do to have a winter World Cup and to move with the times and try different things. I've spent a lot of time out in Qatar and I think it will be an amazing occasion. I'm really looking forward to it.

I think it'll be a spectacle. I think it's the right thing to have it in the winter in terms of the weather as it'll be perfect for all the players. It'll be a level playing ground and I think it'll be a fantastic occasion. I don't think the break will cause too much of a problem for the Premier League and I'm fully looking forward to it.

Jason McAteer is the official UK & Ireland ambassador for LV BET. See exclusive content with Jason on @LVBET_com. Find all of Jason's latest football picks here. 18+ BeGambleAware®.

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