Miguel Delaney: 'Mohamed Salah’s wonder goal exorcises Anfield demons as title race rages on'
The wonder, now, is whether this title run-in is genuinely going to keep going as straight and as perfectly as Mohamed Salah’s match-winning strike at Anfield. That brilliant goal saw Liverpool FC seal a fine 2-0 victory over Chelsea after Sadio Mane’s opener, but more importantly crowned yet another convincing performance; yet another response to Manchester City; and yet another win in a match where many might have expected a wobble.
Not a bit of it.
So much for that late winter slump. So much, too, for any questions over Liverpool’s mentality. This was just another indication of their impressive endurance, especially in the full-blooded way they came out after what had been a tense first half.
By the time the second half was finished, any unrest over City’s earlier win against Crystal Palace was a distant memory, as was their own trouble in this very fixture five years ago.
This is just such a different team to the last Liverpool title challengers, in terms of the obdurate defiance of the side.
The only memory that mattered was towards the 96 lost at Hillsborough in this 30th anniversary week, for which there was a moving and impeccable commemoration before the game. As to the present, and the future, we can’t quite yet say that Liverpool have fully buried the burdens of 2013/14 but they did bury Chelsea, and both they and City do look capable of burying everyone who comes their way.
The was one of only two wrinkles to another rousing win, as Liverpool returned to the top of the table, albeit with a game more played. There is the strong possibility that - in an unprecedented run - both of the top two will win all of their remaining games.
Chelsea couldn’t stop Liverpool, despite Maurizio Sarri’s side actually looking solid enough for a fair bit of the game.
The other wrinkle was Jordan Henderson having to go off injured, especially when this was just another match in this run-in where he displayed his game-changing quality; where he led by example.
Henderson has been a figure of some debate at Liverpool due to his position in the team, but his positive influence on this title race has been inarguable. After setting up the key goal against Southampton with a header, it was here his cool head that set Liverpool on their way. He offered the calculation that made the difference.
Liverpool had admittedly come out at half-time almost a completely different team, where the previous tension of the game just gave way to their intensity. Klopp’s side were suddenly laying siege to Chelsea’s goal with more and more gaps appearing. The latter was probably connected to the fact that Antonio Rudiger had gone off injured before half-time, especially since replacement Andreas Christensen just didn’t look fully in tune with the rest of the backline. Liverpool were forcing them further and further back, with the ball getting closer and closer to the goal - but they still needed to be a bit more clinical. That was what Henderson offered.
When the ball arrived at his feet near the corner of the six-yard box after another bout of pinball, the temptation must have been just to speculatively and hopefully shoot through the Chelsea bodies. Henderson instead took a touch, took the ball wide and then clipped in a clever cross for the unmarked Mane.
Another gap had appeared, and another lead had appeared. Mane easily headed it past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Anfield erupted, and it was then almost as if the release of emotion further emboldened the players - particularly Salah.
Within moments, he was picking the ball up near the sideline, cutting in and then trying his luck. Except, really, there was no luck about it. It was just ludicrous quality, as the ball flew into the top corner. Kepa couldn’t get near it.
It was one of the goals of the season, and may yet prove one of the more important moments of the season.
That especially felt the case minutes later when Hazard hit the post. It was suddenly as if Liverpool were too released, too emboldened, because they instantly allowed the game to become needlessly open. It meant Chelsea genuinely had two chances from which they could well have made it 2-2.
The first saw Hazard display brilliant moment to evade Joel Matip only to then narrowly hit the post. The second saw Alisson save well from the playmaker.
It was all the more frustrating for Sarri because Chelsea had arguably been the better side in the first half, only for Willian to waste one big chance.
That in itself only reflects Liverpool’s resolve.
Chelsea’s spell passed, to the point it became futile to pass to ineffective substitute Gonzalo Higuain.
Liverpool were by then cruising, but still don’t look like letting up any speed in this title race.