This was a hell of a week for Liverpool Football Club. After going down 1-0 to Rangers in mid-week Champions League action, Liverpool scored seven straight goals to get into a comfortable second place in Group A, trailing only the ascendant Napoli. Riding that high into Sunday’s marquee Premier League matchup against Manchester City, Liverpool appeared to have fully cleared the cobwebs that plagued it earlier this season.
Mohamed Salah has been perhaps the biggest reason for Liverpool’s roar over the past week, which is no surprise in its own right but has been startling to behold all the same. In the Rangers game, Salah scored the fastest Champions League hat-trick in history: His first goal came in the 75th minute, while his third came just six minutes later. Against City on Sunday, Salah was back at it, and though he didn’t score another trio of goals this time, his one tally was both stunning and the difference maker in Liverpool’s much-needed 1-0 win over the Manchester juggernaut.
The great thing about Manchester City-Liverpool games is that they often, if not always, end up being the best examples of soccer excellence in England. These are two high-execution machines, so perfectly tuned that they can raise the caliber of play in the Premier League on their own. Sunday was no exception, though it was less of a tactical masterclass and more, for lack of a better explanation, a skill showcase. Despite two of the best managers in the world patrolling the sidelines in Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, there were no surprise set-ups. Both teams threw out close to their best available XI out there and trusted those cool and good players do what cool and good players do.
They did, which led to chance after chance for both sides; Brazilian goalies Alisson and Ederson took turns at making stunning saves to keep the score 0-0. Perhaps the best chance before Salah’s goal came from Salah himself, as he got behind the entire City backline and zeroed in on goal. How Ederson got a hand on this ball, I’ll never know:
Just after that, Phil Foden actually put the ball into the back of the net following a furious Manchester City counter, though Liverpool players were immediately livid and flocked around referee Anthony Taylor. The anger from Liverpool’s side came from a perceived foul by Erling Haaland on Fabinho in the run-up, and after some VAR interference, Foden’s goal was ruled out. Taylor had a rocky go of it on Sunday, but got this one right.
That was all Salah needed to keep his blistering form going. Following a half-chance by City, Alisson found himself with the ball in his own box and Salah running down the middle of the field with only João Cancelo between him and the goal. Poor Cancelo had a nightmare of a game on Sunday, but no moment was worse than this, as Salah was able to scoop the ball up, completely rinse the attack-first fullback, and then slot a cool finish past Ederson one-on-one:
The remaining 13-plus minutes didn’t feature much Salah, and had frankly too much Darwin Nuñez, who failed to pass the ball to the Egyptian on a 3-on-1 counter that could have iced the game. Still, though, this was one of Salah’s best performances of a season in which he has been very good, without quite seeming like his usual world-beating self. Perhaps he needed the Rangers explosion to get back on track, or maybe it was just a matter of facing the titanic City side. Either way, Salah didn’t win this game alone. But he was, as he often has been in his Merseyside tenure, the one who swung the result in Liverpool’s direction.
There will still be questions about Liverpool, of course. The midfield’s complete lack of pace wasn’t exposed against City, thanks to the defending champions’ own lack of midfield speed and propensity to play slower, possession-based soccer. The defense also needs some work, though this was the back four’s best performance of the year; Haaland was almost entirely shut down by the center back pairing of Virgil van Dijk and, especially, Joe Gomez.
And it’s hard to argue with the results. They did more than enough to keep a clean sheet, with some help from Alisson, and Liverpool can play and win these types of games when Salah is on point. What remains to be seen is whether this was a tremor by a fading side or whether Liverpool will use these three points to catapult itself back into title contention. Either way, the Pool Boys need this version of Salah more often than not. He picked a hell of a time to show up in his final form.