Mohamed Salah ignores Saudi spotlight to inspire Liverpool win over Aston Villa
Mohamed Salah ignored the Saudi Arabian spotlight focused on him with a goal and an impressive all-round performance in Liverpool’s comfortable 3-0 Premier League rout of Aston Villa which showed his commitment and desire has not wavered.
A rejected £150million bid from Al-Ittihad on Friday merely sparked reports the Pro League champions would return with a world-record offer – with their transfer window open until Thursday – but while the speculation continues, the Egypt international got on with what he is good at.
This was his 188th goal in 308 appearances, 139th in 222 Premier League matches, his seventh in seven games against Villa and the 150th different game in which he had found the target.
His close-range poacher’s finish at a corner made the result safe but even with the game won inside an hour, he was still chasing lost causes on an afternoon when scorching temperatures inside Anfield resembled Saudi Arabia on one of its cooler days.
But while Salah provided the killer blow with the third goal, the architect of the victory was Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose corner saw Dominik Szoboszlai open the scoring with his first goal for the club and then a clever whipped pass over the top released Salah – which ultimately resulted in a Matty Cash own goal.
However, the sight of him limping off and straight down the tunnel with 20 minutes to go will be of some concern as manager Jurgen Klopp has no one else who can do what he currently does.
Klopp himself marked his 300th Premier League match with his 188th victory, losing just 43, but as he stressed in his programme notes when urging fans not to sing his song until after the final whistle, the focus was on the players.
This was only the second of seven league matches Liverpool had won without Virgil Van Dijk, currently suspended, but wearing the armband in his place, local lad Alexander-Arnold led by example.
However, even he could not have anticipated his third-minute corner reaching Szoboszlai untouched by anyone but the Hungary captain, who arrived from RB Leipzig with a reputation for scoring from distance, made sure the right-back got full value for his delivery.
As the ball dropped to him on the edge of the box the 22-year-old hit a sweet, controlled left-footed shot which, on its way back also evaded the crowd to nestle inside the returning Emi Martinez’s left-hand post.
Alexander-Arnold was the instigator of Liverpool’s second but it was the helping hand from Salah, for whom the Kop sang their first song in the 10th minute, chasing his brilliant pass with greater determination than Pau Torres which presented the chance for Nunez.
The Uruguay international scuffed a shot against the post but the rebound went in off the unfortunate Cash.
Liverpool’s right-back-cum-playmaker should have had another assist when he opted to cross a free-kick in prime shooting territory only to find the worst possible option in Joel Matip, whose free header never even threatened the target.
Villa – who lost Diego Carlos to injury midway through the first half – saw John McGinn and substitute Leon Bailey (twice) miss their best chances but the final 20 minutes of the first half was played in a bizarre atmosphere with the visitors sitting off, Liverpool at walking pace and the crowd subdued.
Nunez can always be relied upon to liven things up though and he smashed a shot against the crossbar from the narrowest of angles after the offside Salah’s clever decision not to chase Alexander-Arnold’s ball over the top.
Early in the second half, Alisson Becker parried away Cash’s close-range header on the line before Salah broke down the right, leaving the collapsing Lucas Digne in his wake, to produce a sublime outside-of-the-left-foot cross to the far post – which Nunez somehow managed to bundle wide.
But Salah was not to be denied and from Andy Roberton’s 55th-minute corner, Nunez flicked on the ball to the far post for the Egyptian to blast home from close range for the biggest cheer of the day.