Saturday 18 August 2018

Hovering Spanish giants temper Anfield joy at Salah's mastery

Mo Salah. Photo: PA
Mo Salah. Photo: PA

Chris Bascombe

Imagine heading to a six-year-old's house on Christmas Day, expressing delight as gifts are eagerly accepted, only to feel compelled to introduce a sense of sobriety by announcing there is no Santa Claus.

There was a bit of this going on at the final whistle at Anfield on Saturday night.

Was there any chance of Liverpool supporters or officials basking in the gleeful glow of Mohamed Salah's four goals against Watford?

Of pondering the possibilities in Europe this season, or the feats he might inspire for the rest of his Anfield career?

Not without an unwelcome intrusion of logic, it seems.

Amid the acclaim, the haste to authoritatively announce it a matter of time before Real Madrid or Barcelona make their bid was only marginally slower than one of Salah's sprints to goal.

Whatever the motivation behind this outbreak of level-headedness - reason, fear, envy or (most likely) all three - it reflects Salah's elevation into global phenomenon.

"Well done superstar," was the message captain Jordan Henderson scribbled on Salah's match ball.

The fact he said this was "keeping it simple" underlines how the Egyptian has casually assumed VIP status.

Lionel Messi/Salah comparisons earned Ian Wright ridicule in December. Now the ex-Arsenal striker resembles a sage, even if there is lavishness in this well-intentioned applause.

Salah's first goal in the 5-0 thrashing of Watford, when he put Miguel Britos on his backside before scoring, could have been a reconstruction of Messi's effort against Bayern Munich in the 2015 Champions League.

Among the more extraordinary facts after this four-goal haul is Salah averages a goal every 90 minutes played this season - Messi scores once every 105 minutes.

But a more reasonable reference point is how Salah's performances echo Luis Suarez's Anfield career.

The Egyptian is playing in a more balanced Liverpool team, but has similar ability to concoct as much as score goals.

He now has 28 league goals, just three short of the record held jointly by Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Suarez since the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams. It is a mark he will surely beat.

Every match day, Liverpool's highly respected and much consulted club statistician, Ged Rea, takes his seat in the press box ready to offer factual nuggets.

With each Salah goal he is obliged to consult goal records untouched for 20, 50 or in some cases 100 years.

Salah has started his Liverpool career more prolific than Roger Hunt and Robbie Fowler and could plausibly score more league goals in a top-flight campaign than Ian Rush.

For Jurgen Klopp the Salah show is a thrill and an-ever-so-slight irritation. Managers zealously avoid lauding individuals above the collective.

Klopp's decision to linger when issuing thanks to the other scorer Roberto Firmino, for example, seemed deliberate - an acknowledgement the application of all is facilitating Salah's deeds.

The contrast between the Salah at Chelsea, Roma and Liverpool is also a tribute to Klopp's coaching.

"Nobody could know (that he could play as a striker). We learnt it step by step," admitted Klopp, who laughed that he too once scored four in a game.

"We didn't know exactly that he's (capable) of playing in the centre. It was early. Without consistency we couldn't know but in the pre-season we knew. But we will not treat him like, 'You don't have to train, Mo - just come on Saturday for the game and we'll see you there at Anfield or whatever.' He doesn't want that."

Of course the La Liga giants are watching. The difference in the cases of Suarez and Philippe Coutinho is that they admired from afar.

With Liverpool equipped to annually make the final stages of the Champions League, performances such as this might ensure they get a closer look at Salah sooner than they think.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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