Sunday 26 May 2019

Salah gets Liverpool up and running as Keita revives Fab Four

Liverpool 4 West Ham Utd 0

Mo Salah celebrates
Mo Salah celebrates

Chris Bascombe

So, Mohamed, where were we before Sergio Ramos rudely interrupted?

After a detour via the Real Madrid defender's much-discussed stretching exercises and several Russian cities at an unfulfilling World Cup, Mohamed Salah is back on Premier League duty, doing what comes naturally.

Fully fit, scoring in front of the Kop, delivering on the promise of pre-season and ensuring that, even if this is not the most successful Liverpool team yet, it will continue to be the most talked about when lavish predictions are made.

Salah struck 44 goals in his first season at Anfield and the Kop are hoping for him to emulate that feat this term.

His opening goal after 19 minutes at Anfield yesterday was a tap-in, constructed by the penetrating midfield running of Naby Keita and left-wing delivery of Andrew Robertson, underlining why there will be no pause in his goal hunt.

This was Salah's 29th goal in 29 Premier League games and he would have had more but for Lukasz Fabianski, Liverpool easing to victory having only occasionally needed to break into a gallop against a disappointing, albeit reconstructed West Ham United.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action with West Ham's Declan Rice and Mark Noble. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action with West Ham's Declan Rice and Mark Noble. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Passing

Liverpool's new goalkeeper Alisson, rarely needed other than to parade his passing skills, will have to wait for the chance to make a save in English football.

Jurgen Klopp spent the week trying to control growing expectations on Merseyside.

They even played the Rocky theme before kick-off - a reference to Klopp's positioning of his side as the streetwise, plucky challengers to Manchester City.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp applauds their fans after the match. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp applauds their fans after the match. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

However, even the German accepts that Liverpool do not look like rank outsiders and his side did not follow the script about restraining hype. This was Liverpool's biggest opening-day win since 1995.

"We know about our expectations and we know there is a really positive atmosphere around us. That is good," said Klopp.

"But this season will be unbelievably hard. We didn't win anything since I was in, so we have to invest more, we have to fight more and then we will see where it leads."

Most reassuring for Salah and Klopp, the supply line to the ever-reliable strikers has been reinforced, Keita's debut demonstrating how seamlessly he will complement those ahead.

Liverpool's Andrew Robertson (right) in action with West Ham United's Fabian Balbuena. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Liverpool's Andrew Robertson (right) in action with West Ham United's Fabian Balbuena. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

The 'Fab Four' lost a founder member when Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona.

The concept - which Klopp did not like but is too headline-grabbing to ignore - could be revived with the nimble and clever Keita.

Even with Sadio Mane's double extending the lead either side of half-time, it was Keita's introduction that was most eye-catching when Liverpool took control before the break.

Few are yet to accurately define the Guinea midfielder, his game often compared to that of N'Golo Kante during those months last summer when Liverpool tried to secure a deal with RB Leipzig.

This display confirmed the presence of a player with a different profile to Kante, taking more advanced positions and seeking to link with the forwards. He is, as his shirt suggests, a No 8, not an anchorman.

When Roberto Firmino was rested with 22 minutes left, Keita moved into the front three from the left.

He looks like he will create plenty and get chances of his own, while willing to put in a robust tackle when necessary.

"He has settled really quickly in a similar position and style of play to Leipzig," said Klopp.

The contrast with West Ham's laboured midfielders must have concerned Manuel Pellegrini.

For Jack Wilshere, especially, this was inauspicious start to reigniting his career. He looked like a leggy veteran when compared to the dynamic Liverpool recruit.

Worryingly for the visitors, many of their players appeared exhausted long before the final whistle.

That is not rare on the opening weekend, but the gulf in vibrancy and energy was apparent long before West Ham's players had decided closing down and tackling was a waste of time midway through the second half.

A harsher assessment is it looked like Pellegrini's immediate impact was to experiment without any conditioning work in pre-season. It was not entirely clear if they had come to Anfield to attack or repel.

The away end inside the ground swiftly emptied after substitute Daniel Sturridge nudged home the fourth after 88 minutes, no doubt grasping the sole positive they will not encounter an attack - or even a subs' bench - with this level of ammunition every week.

Pellegrini, who played five new signings, considered the margin of victory flattering.

"It was a tough game before, during and after the game. We knew it would be difficult," he said.

"Liverpool deserved to win, but we had two or three chances to equalise and the third goal was a clear offside." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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