Liverpool’s win against Napoli proves the futility of doubting Mohamed Salah
Were we really doubting Mo Salah? Did we really believe something was irrevocably lost in the assault by that Spanish body snatcher Sergio Ramos. By increments the genius is returning to the feet of the little man.
Though some way short of the player that carried Liverpool to the Champions League final in May, a mere whiff of his best was enough to ease the worries of a broiling Anfield. A night that could have seen Liverpool out of Europe altogether turned into affirmation. Liverpool advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League to complement their domestic ascent.
Kalidou Koulibaly is some player yet with a drop of the shoulder Salah wiped millions off the asking price for the Senegalese stopper said to be interesting Manchester United at £90m. Mind you, Koulibaly was not helped by the non-combat pact of Mario Rui, who was rolled out of the way by the smallest man on the pitch. The finish was pure Salah, slipped through the legs of the advancing David Ospina into the far corner. Before the goal the game was shaping into a lament for the Salah we thought might be gone.
Read more: Should Virgil van Dijk have been sent off for his challenge on Dries Mertens?
The ball from the remarkable Andrew Robertson in the seventh minute followed its familiar beautiful arc straight to the feet of the advancing Mo. A year ago that net was bulging. This term the guarantee has not been there. The hat-trick on Saturday that filleted Bournemouth was thought to have signalled a complete recovery. The fumbled first touch here suggested he was still some way off.
At his best Salah skewers with an unbearable lightness of touch. If the timing is just a nano-second out he carries all the clout of a ping-pong ball, bouncing off big, brutish defenders hither and thither. For half an hour you wondered how long it would take for Jurgen Klopp to act, and then off came the roof.
High drama at Anfield
A 1-0 win was the minimum requirement to see Liverpool through. Without a second to go with the opener the night became something of a torment for the home support. As the second half galloped on Napoli swept forward with increasing purpose. One Neapolitan strike would require Liverpool to score three.
With 12 minutes to go the chance to skewer Liverpool fell to Jose Callejon racing in at the far post. The ball threaded across the box from Lorenzo Insigne arrived bearing the motif ‘put your laces through it’. Callejon must have been wearing slip-ons, his foot mistaking the ball for ice scream and scooping it wide of the post.
When Liverpool are sweeping all aside ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sounds like it might have been written and recorded on the Kop. When they lose it can sound a bit like the last dance at the disco when you are heading home with only Gerry and the Pacemakers for company while your mate got the girl. Again.
Thankfully it did not come to that. But Liverpool will not want to tempt fate like this when the the competition fires up again in February. They dominated the game, engineering more than 20 attempts on goal. Only five found the target, with Sadio Mane missing two sitters late on, exposing Allison in goal to the threat of late plunder.
Arkadiusz Milik thought he had stole the glory in added time but the Liverpool keeper made himself Peter Schmeichel big. Spurs drawing level late in Barcelona sends a full complement of four English teams into the last 16. With Salah coming back to himself and Allison in wonderland, Liverpool will fancy their chances now.
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