He was extraordinary, as usual, so much so that his superpowers on a pitch are seen as standard.
Mohamed Salah was doing what he does expertly: making defenders wish they’d disappeared instead of being made to look foolish by him.
He also so nearly rendered Liverpool’s kryptonite against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday irrelevant.
They had no functioning right side, but the Merseysiders had the current best player in the world. Is there a concrete argument for anyone else that doesn’t centre around historical achievements?
Even Salah’s supreme assist and holy-hell-did-you-see-that? goal wasn’t enough to mask Liverpool’s deficiency in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“We have three or more options for the position,” Jurgen Klopp had so confidently outlined on his plan at right-back ahead of City’s visit. None of those names were that of Alexander-Arnold, though, and lining up against Porto without the player crucial to the system is an altogether different prospect to causing Pep Guardiola’s machine to malfunction.
James Milner is the candidate Klopp plumped for ahead of Joe Gomez and Neco Williams to start on the opposite flank to Andy Robertson. By half-time, the 35-year-old must have cursed his manager’s choice.
Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo all took turns to torment him and he was castaway – stranded on an island bordered by a sea of City attacks.
So much for Klopp’s insistence that “football is not the game anymore where you should have these one v one challenges for a long time, there are moments, seconds. But whoever plays there should be protected by at least two players in a right-back situation – so that’s the centre-half and the midfielder and the winger in an ideal world”.
This was no nirvana for Liverpool. They were being overrun and Jordan Henderson was struggling to put out his own fires let alone assist Milner, while Joel Matip had to be a plaster for all their ills on the right.
City’s attacks largely funnelled through this area and after an atypically slow and strained start, the defending champions remembered who they were as they turned the screw.
Foden, in particular, was ensuring his side owned the key battle area – down Liverpool’s right – and as such the fixture. He muddled Milner, who should have conceded, at the very least, a free-kick outside the box but probably a penalty on 30 minutes.
Liverpool’s only shot in the first half had materialised in the eighth minute and they were incredibly fortunate the scoreline was still goalless at the break on account of Alisson thwarting Foden twice, while Grealish and Kevin Be Bruyne were wasteful.
Guardiola will have warned City at the interval that the hosts could not be as clueless in the second half. He certainly would have emphasised their need to stop chucking chances in the bin.
Guardiola expected City to suffer, but there was none of that until… bang!
Liverpool forensically built from the back, with Fabinho flicking a delightful ball for Salah to work with. The Egyptian skipped past Cancelo on the halfway line, charged away from Bernardo Silva and had spotted Mane’s intelligent run across Ruben Dias.
Salah slipped through a perfect pass, and the Senegal forward met it with an imperious first-time finish into the far corner.
But Liverpool’s sheer offensive brilliance was undone by an obvious avenue. City were behind for a mere 10 minutes before Jesus cut infield from the right, used his fast feet to evade attention and curled a pass towards Foden.
Liverpool’s weak point was highlighted by his mastery. Foden’s first touch narrowed his angle, but that only made greater room for his technical genius.
The England international wonderfully drilled a shot across Alisson and into the far corner.
Milner was nowhere near him but took a chunk of Silva and, already on a yellow card, should have been sent off.
The game was on edge and Salah looked to have knocked City from the cliff with pure football art: a goal worthy of gleaming and glistening as a museum focal point.
Liverpool’s main threat received the ball on the right wing and was boxed in by City players. He surely couldn’t escape? In a matter of seconds, Salah turned away from Cancelo, dragged possession past a despairing Silva and then cut away from Laporte.
From what seemed an unrealistic angle, he triggered a right-footed worldie that waved to Ederson and settled in the far corner, with an incensed Guardiola getting yellow-carded in the aftermath.
There was no extended admiring of a goal that deserved it because five minutes later, Liverpool’s right was shredded again although Milner had been substituted for Gomez so was spared the pain.
Foden broke into the area and sent in a pacy low cross that Kyle Walker knocked to De Bruyne on the edge of the area.
The Belgian thundered in a left-footed shot that diverted off Matip to earn City a point in a match they should have won had it not been for Salah.
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