With 13 minutes played at Anfield, Mohamed Salah was presented with a chance to score for Liverpool after a glaring error by Tyrone Mings but, with only Emiliano Martínez to beat, he poked his shot wide.
With 51 minutes played at Anfield, Mohamed Salah was presented with a chance to score for Liverpool following a pass by Georginio Wijnaldum but, despite having a reasonable amount of time and space inside the area, he dragged his shot and, via a deflection, saw it dribble out for a corner.
With 57 minutes played at Anfield, Mohamed Salah was presented with a chance to score for Liverpool after Andrew Robertson’s shot had been parried into his path by Martínez but – well, but nothing; he scored, heading into an open net while under pressure from Mings.
Those three moments pretty much sum up Salah’s time at Liverpool up to now. Outsiders may find it hard to believe but he can be a really frustrating player, one who regularly finds himself in the right place at the right time to score and regularly finds a way not to. But then comes the goal – it always seems to come for Salah and on a bright, spring afternoon it was not only somewhat inevitable but also hugely important for the hosts, bringing them back into a game that appeared set to maintain their Anfield misery but instead ended with those in red sensing this most trying and tumultuous of seasons may turn out OK after all.
A win at home. There had not been one of those for Liverpool since before Christmas, with their previous six coming into this contest having ended in defeat. It was a bewildering, unwanted club record and appeared set to be extended after Ollie Watkins had given Aston Villa the lead against the run of play on 43 minutes and then an equaliser by Roberto Firmino in first-half stoppage time was ruled out for offside via one of those VAR calls that has most people watching on shaking their heads in disbelief and despair. Marginal? You can say that again.
Liverpool could have felt sorry for themselves – and there has been plenty of that from them at home this season – but instead they started the second half with the same level of intensity and aggression they had displayed before the interval and got the reward their efforts deserved – Salah’s goal, followed right at the death by another from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The latter will, as the cliche goes, grab the headlines given it was late, emphatic, saw Liverpool maintain their hopes of finishing in the top four and occurred in front of the England manager, Gareth Southgate, but the former really felt like the moment, ending as it did Liverpool’s incredible run without a goal from open play at Anfield – 756 minutes and counting – and giving them the belief to keep pressing for a winner, which, on the balance of play, they deserved.
It also provided a moment to reflect on Salah’s contribution to Liverpool. As many in the champions’ ranks have fallen short of their best this campaign, the Egyptian forward has continued to excel. Quite frankly, the numbers are frightening – 28 goals in 43 appearances, with 19 coming in 30 league appearances, making him the division’s top scorer, alongside Harry Kane, and Liverpool’s top-scorer by some distance. Indeed, he is now only two goals behind the combined total of Firmino, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané and you would have to be naive, silly or both to bet against him surpassing that trio’s collective contribution in the coming weeks.
His goal on Saturday was by no means the best he has scored for Liverpool but it perfectly highlighted his willingness to keep getting into dangerous areas as well as his anticipation for the kind of breaks that result in chances, which, to a large extent, is why he is presented with so many. And it is those traits that Jürgen Klopp’s side will need on Wednesday as they look to overturn their 3-1 deficit to Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
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Salah has been linked with the Spanish club and hinted in recent interviews that he is open to moving there. That is something all associated with Liverpool simply cannot contemplate, and certainly not right now as they lean, more than ever, on the 28-year-old. He misses but he also scores – a lot and crucially.