Thursday 26 April 2018

Relentless Salah eyes Shearer record goal tally

Liverpool 3 Bournemouth 0

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Paul Wilson

The bad news for Harry Kane is that Mohamed Salah is not standing still waiting to be caught. The Liverpool striker became the first player to reach 30 league goals with a delightful second-half header, leaving him one goal short of the record for a 38-match Premier League season, with four games left to play.

In all competitions, Salah now has 40 for the season, enough to join the ranks of Reds royalty. Only Roger Hunt and Ian Rush have managed that feat before, though the latter did it twice.

One more league goal and Salah joins Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez as joint top Premier League scorers, although the chances are he might go out in front. He may even reach or pass the 34 goals Shearer scored in the original Premier League, before it was reduced to 20 teams and 38 fixtures.

Salah already had a couple of close-range chances by the time Liverpool took the lead on seven minutes. Jordan Henderson sent a diagonal cross into the box and though Asmir Begovic kept out Sadio Mané's initial header from close to the penalty spot, he could not keep hold of the ball and the Senegal international lost no time in tucking away the rebound.

Though Jordon Ibe did try to hit back against his old club with a speculative drive that flew a couple of feet over Loris Karius' crossbar, once Liverpool had taken the early lead, there was more interest in whether or not Salah would get on to the scoresheet than the outcome of the game.

Apparently piqued by Kane's nerve in bulking up his total with disputed goals, Salah made it clear from the outset that he was keen to find the target.

Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain goes past AFC Bournemouth's Dan Gosling. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain goes past AFC Bournemouth's Dan Gosling. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

He brought a save from Begovic midway through the first half when it might have been more rewarding to pass to a colleague than shoot. And when a stray Simon Francis pass gave him a chance to run at the Bournemouth defence a few moments later, he again showed little inclination to part with the ball, even though he must have known he had little chance of scoring with a rising shot from the edge of the area.

Unsurprisingly, given their exertions over the last 10 days, Liverpool could not summon the intensity or urgency they produced against Manchester City in the Champions League. Jürgen Klopp had warned them to be careful of a European hangover against opponents who still need a few more points to be sure of safety.

Even though playing with an almost unchanged side, Liverpool took the opportunity to slow down a little and get through the game with something to spare.

The closest they came to extending their lead before the interval came when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain burst through the middle in much the same way as he had in the first game against City, only to see his shot roll harmlessly the wrong side of Begovic's right-hand upright.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

A scooped pass from Mané gave Salah a brief chance of getting goal-side of the Bournemouth back three and though the offside flag stayed down, the touch he took to control the ball inadvertently gave Nathan Aké the chance to clear.

The second half began in a fashion that was quite tedious. Roberto Firmino ran offside on a couple of occasions but that was about it for excitement. A 50-yard break by Trent Alexander-Arnold did bring Salah back into the game just after the hour mark but, by his standards, the eventual shot was tame.

The danger for Liverpool was that the visitors might sneak back into it and share the points with a single effective attack, or that everyone at Anfield might fall asleep, yet at the mid-point of the second half a couple of Salah-related incidents brought the stadium to life.

First the Egyptian went flying in the penalty area claiming a push in the back from Aké, though Chris Kavanagh was having none of it and replays proved him right. Aké did raise his hands, unwisely, and Salah may have felt the contact, though there was not even a hint of a shove.

Less than a minute later Salah had his revenge, drifting in behind Aké to get his head to Alexander-Arnold's cross to put Liverpool two in front. That barely does his 30th league goal of the season justice, for Salah still had to apply the right amount of power and precision to get the ball above and beyond a 6ft 5in goalkeeper.

He made a difficult chance look easy. No wonder Kane is worried.

Karius had to make a stop from Dan Gosling after that but Liverpool were never seriously threatened. Firmino could have made it 3-0 a few minutes before he scored after missing one good chance through over-elaborating in front of the Kop, but he made sure he buried his next one.

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