On a snowy day in Salzburg, Liverpool faced the ghost of elimination from the UEFA Champions League when they took on Red Bull Salzburg away from home. The defending champions, who were drawn in Group E with the southern Italian team Napoli, Austrian giant Red Bull and the Belgian side Genk, had to secure at least one point out of their match against Red Bull Salzburg to feature once again in the last 16 of the tournament.
Although the first half caused some doubts about the ability of Liverpool to qualify, Egyptian ace Mohamed Salah and his teammates easily killed the match after they scored twice in the second half. The first was netted by Naby Keita and Salah scored the other by threading the needle. Liverpool thus topped the group stage while Napoli came second, allowing the two clubs to qualify.
More than 200 goals in Salah’s career so far, but that goal in Austria had its own beauty as he scored it using his weaker right foot and from a near impossible angle. Coach Jurgen Klopp, who just extended his contract with the Reds until 2024, said that he was delighted with the Egyptian’s goal especially after the chances he missed throughout the first half.
“I was really happy with his goal, because of the missed situations before. We created them really well,” Klopp said.
“Don’t see in stats for missed chances cause he scores all the time. He is in good shape. He is always free cause of his movement. An incredible goal for Mo,” he added.
Not only Klopp but also Red Bull Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch lauded the impressive goal scored by Salah against his club. “In the end they showed their quality. Salah’s goal was unbelievable. It was like a heavyweight fight. We punched them but then they punched us twice more,” Mersch said.
“We knew that we needed our best performance so far and that was our best performance. We are very disappointed. Until we conceded, we probably couldn’t have played any better. In a day or two the pride might come to the fore.”
In the English Premier league, Liverpool remains unbeaten after the 17th week. The Reds took on Watford at Anfield Road where Salah continued his scoring streak by scoring a brace, once again with his right foot which made football fans and analysts appreciate his marked improvement. Salah’s back heel goal and, earlier, a lovely shot into the top corner secured the three points for the Reds marking their 49th point in the league, 10 points ahead of second-placed Leicester City who dropped two points against Norwich City. Defending champion Manchester City has 32 points after 16 games.
Salah has now passed Liverpool’s finest strikers Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres in goals scored for the Reds. Salah has so far scored 84 goals in 126 games, while Suarez and Torres scored 82 goals in 133 games and 81 goals in 142 games respectively.
Salah reflected on scoring twice with his weaker foot against Watford, telling BT Sport: “I’m practising with my right foot!”
He said he has been practising with his right-foot in training. “I had some luck with the first goal. It was a counterattack so I got a good pass and I think we scored at the right time.
“We played against a tough team today. I think they should be in a better position than what they are… so hopefully we keep winning the next few games.
“I think now we have more experience, we played together for three or four years, we know when we can make the game fast.
“The crowd, they get panicky a little bit, but we have experience, we’ve won a few games 1-0, so it’s fine,” Salah added.
The 27-year-old has now scored 13 goals and provided six assists in 22 games across all competitions this season.
Former Chelsea and Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole praised Salah’s strikes while also comparing his touch to Lionel Messi. Speaking to BT Sport about Salah’s brace, Cole hailed Sadio Mane’s assist for the first goal before praising the Egyptian’s composure, saying: “There’s nothing Watford can do about it.
“I know they’re 0-0 at Anfield, give good credit to them, but the finish, that little touch he took there, most players haven’t got that composure, that little Messi touch, where you chop inside and just want to get the shot away,” Cole said.
Salah has won the last two Premier League scoring titles but this season he stands at nine goals behind leader Jamie Vardy who has 16 goals after 17 games.
Still, without a doubt, Salah’s recent performances will make him a strong contender for the BBC African Player of the Year Award, however one can believe Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City is one step ahead after winning the Africa Cup of Nations last summer in Egypt.
Liverpool are now scheduled to play in the FIFA Club World Cup in Doha, Qatar.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.