The intensity of the Anfield celebrations that accompanied Mohamed Salah‘s 93rd-minute strike against Manchester United on Sunday left little doubt as to Liverpool fans’ overwhelming confidence — now no longer tinged with the wariness of three decades’ underachievement — that the English Premier League title is finally returning to Merseyside.
The finish masked what had been a poor display by the Egypt international, who had failed to hit the target with three earlier efforts and beaten his opposite man on only one occasion.
However, there was little indecision about his finish after he had broken away, controlled an adroit long ball from Allison deftly with his left foot, while shielding possession from Daniel James, and finished emphatically beneath David de Gea.
In the same way that Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip against Chelsea in April 2014 has become the moment to encapsulate that fine team’s failure to clinch the title and get over the line, so Salah’s finish against old rivals United may prove to be one of the defining images of Jurgen Klopp’s side’s utter conviction in their destiny.
For the attacker, it marked en emphatic end to the hoodoo that United’s defence had previously held over him.
Despite scoring against 22 of the 25 Premier League teams he’d faced before Sunday’s showdown, he’d never before netted against the Red Devils in four previous appearances.
It wasn’t a vintage Salah performance, and until the death, it had looked as though his underwhelming run would be extended.
The attacker had earlier missed a close-range effort after an excellent delivery from Andy Robertson during the opening stages of the second half, although there had been one testing cross that Roberto Firmino failed to convert.
Before Salah’s late strike — finally killing the contest after United had threatened to overturn Virgil Van Dijk’s opener — Sadio Mane had been comfortably the more dangerous of Liverpool’s two African superstars.
He’d been influential in setting up Firmino to score before the Reds had been denied a second after VAR adjudged that Van Dijk had fouled de Gea in the build-up to the goal, while both the Spanish goalkeeper and Luke Shaw had blocked Mane efforts as Liverpool attempted to add to their advantage.
Salah’s pace, movement and alertness make him a dangerous customer even on a bad day, however, and he finally brought an end to his wait for a goal against United and took the Anfield giants 16 points clear with a game in hand.
“We just need to take it game by game,” Salah told Sky Sports. “That’s the only way we can win the Premier League.
“We struggled last season at the same time so we have to keep calm and just focus on each game.
“We just need to keep [our] focus on each game. We don’t have to think that now we’ve won the Premier League or whatever.”
The North African may not be saying it, or even thinking it, but his celebrations — as well as those of the Liverpool supporters — as Alisson slid on his knees to celebrate with Salah, told a different story.
Without injured Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester City’s unconvincing run continued as they lost their fourth game in six when Burnley came from behind to win 2-1 at Turf Moor, while in-form Adama Traore delivered one of his finest performances of the season as Wolverhampton Wanderers bounced back from two goals down to win 3-2 against Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium.
The Hispano-Malian wideman — playing in a more advanced role than usual — completed a whopping nine successful dribblesand contributed a pair of assists as Wolves rallied in the second half.
Serge Aurier and Keita Balde continued his excellent form with a brace as AS Monaco downed minnows St-Pryve St Hilaire 3-1 away on Monday evening. The Senegal international now has five goals in his last five matches.
In Spain, Thomas Partey and Atletico Madrid lost further ground on the top two as they fell to a shock 2-0 defeat at Eibar.
Atleti’s loss, coupled with victories for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, leave them eight points behind the league leaders and only two ahead of fifth-placed Getafe.
The Ghana international played the entire contest, impressing with his aerial prowess, but was unable to offer the creative spark required to unlock the hosts’ backline.
Perhaps the only positive for Partey was that he ended a four-game run of bookings, but he must offer more when Leganes come to the capital on Sunday.
Javier Aguirre’s struggling Lega were defeated 3-0 by Getafe on Saturday, with Cameroon international Allan Nyom netting his second goal of the season for Jose Bordalas’s high-fliers.
Ahead of Hertha Berlin’s Bundesliga bout with Bayern Munich on Sunday, the capital club’s Belgo-Congolese wideman Dodi Lukebakio will surely have been hoping to extend his fine run against the reigning champions.
Only one other player in the division — Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus — had scored more times against Bayern than the 22-year-old heading into their meeting this weekend, with Munich defenders struggling to deal with Lukebakio’s presence and physicality in the past.
On this occasion, however, there would be no sixth goal against the German giants for Lukebakio, who was replaced after 82 minutes with Hertha already three goals down and on their way towards a 4-0 defeat.
After scoring two goals in his first three Bundesliga minutes, German-Nigerian youngster Joshua Zirkzee didn’t get off the bench…perhaps to Hertha’s relief!
Over at the Opel Arena, Jean-Philippe Mateta scored his second goal of the season after making his return from injury, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Mainz from falling to a 2-1 defeat by visiting Freiburg.