Sunday 22 April 2018

Mo Salah's Messi-like genius keeps impossible dream alive for fans

The Egyptian has slotted in seamlessly at Anfield and perhaps that is because he feels as close as possible to a physical representation of Jurgen Klopp’s thrillingly aggressive – if frequently profligate – side. Photo: Getty Images
The Egyptian has slotted in seamlessly at Anfield and perhaps that is because he feels as close as possible to a physical representation of Jurgen Klopp’s thrillingly aggressive – if frequently profligate – side. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Hayward

Lionel Messi is invoked only in extreme circumstances. Comparisons are usually odious. But there was no denying Mohamed Salah's right to place his second goal against Tottenham Hotspur alongside the brilliance in tight spaces of Barcelona's master of escapology.

Lionel Messi is invoked only in extreme circumstances. Comparisons are usually odious. But there was no denying Mohamed Salah's right to place his second goal against Tottenham Hotspur alongside the brilliance in tight spaces of Barcelona's master of escapology.

The goal Salah scored in added time of a game decided by impromptu refereeing reviews would have sent Liverpool's fans home feeling they had seen a thing of beauty.

The joy, though, did not last. Moments after Salah had moved to 21 Premier League goals for the season - an extraordinary return for a so-called winger - Harry Kane secured his 100th in England's top division from a controversial penalty.

Salah's brief taste of glory deserved a bit longer in the limelight.

Collecting the ball on the right side of the Tottenham box, Salah started using his feet as pinball flippers as he jinked through and round four defenders, who were so bamboozled they started shifting in the wrong directions as Salah surged through.

Conventional logic was telling them to expect particular movements from Liverpool's top scorer.

In such moments, however, the best players are improvising wildly, and there was something of Messi's unpredictability in the way Salah slithered through to lift his shot over Hugo Lloris from a tight angle.

Lloris appeared no more confident than his defence of working out what Salah's feet were doing.

When the ball flashed into the net, Salah had the match in his pocket.

Liverpool were leading 2-1 with minutes, seconds, of added time remaining. Game over, surely. And the stakes were high.

The race for fourth, so often a contrivance, this year brings genuine excitement. Spurs and Liverpool, highly entertaining sides, are in a fight to see which is the most progressive - the most authentic - and have been joined by Chelsea in the tussle behind Manchester's two gargantuan outfits.

Salah scored at the start and end of a game full of thrills and talking points (shouting points, really).

Three minutes in, he floated on to an errant back-pass by Eric Dier with only Lloris to beat. Sounds easy, but the execution was sweeping and precise - as Jurgen Klopp pointed out.

The value of this threat can hardly be overstated. In this Liverpool side, Salah is the one who makes defenders twitch and sweat.

Notionally a left-footed outside right, he has mastered the art of making runs across the forward line. They are rarely straight.

He plants doubt in the minds of defenders by swaying and veering as he sprints, so they can never decide where he might be heading.

The old term 'back-pedalling' comes into play. Defenders run backwards in a crouch position, with eyes trained. When Salah is attacking, it is never just a foot race.

To add a quick, elusive runner to Liverpool's forward play was worth the transfer fee in itself, but Salah is behind only Harry Kane (22) in the league scoring charts.

Salah is the fastest Liverpool player to have reached 20 goals in the competition; quicker than Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres et al.

This, after failing to establish himself at Chelsea and moving to Rome, where he scored 29 times in 65 outings before coming to Merseyside, where he has already become a cult figure.

The question is whether he will be simply an adornment to a top-four side unable to quite match Manchester City and United or the catalyst for a Liverpool renaissance, 28 years after they last won the league. (© Daily Telegraph, London.)

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