Liverpool had started the Premier League season with two consecutive draws against newly-promoted side Fulham and mid-table side Crystal Palace, respectively, but its damage became clear in the game that followed.
Strikes from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford embodied Jurgen Klopp’s nightmare and the Reds lost their first match this season to Manchester United. The 1-2 loss came on August 23, last year.
Eight and half months later, Klopp’s boys anchored their redemption against the same rival, with a mesmerising 7-0 win at Anfield. The player who stood out in the landmark win was United’s nemesis over the past three seasons – Mohamed Salah.
The 30-year-old danced past defenders, broke the press and scored with two first touches as the Red Devils ended up being caged under his spell of footballing supremacy in Liverpool’s backyard.
With his brace, Salah – tied with Alan Shearer – became the joint top-scorer against Manchester United for a single team, with 10 goals and also the highest Premier League goal scorer for the Reds ever, eclipsing Robbie Fowler’s record of 128 goals.
“It’s very special, I can’t lie. This record was in my mind since I came here,” Salah told Sky Sports after the match.
“I think after my first season (when he won the Golden Boot with 32 goals) I was always chasing that record. To beat it today against United with that result is unbelievable,” he added.
The Salah masterclass against Man United
Klopp’s definiton of pressing – known as the gegenpress in modern football and ‘heavy metal football’ by himself – stems from the tendency to surround the opponent constantly, ensuring the ball progresses up the pitch at the same time.
While the technique looks like a Mozart symphony, with perfect highs and lows, if executed incorrectly, it runs the risk of scattering into disarray like a set of lego bricks.
In either case, Klopp’s play demands consistent stamina from the players – something that has seen Salah run his lungs out along the right flank.
Klopp has also exploited the sprint speed of Salah, with the winger schooling Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United with a quick break in 2020, running all alone in the opposition half and putting it past a hapless David De Gea.
About three years later, his instincts have remained the same, and his dribbling against Erik Ten Hag’s press has reasserted his position as a persistent goal threat.
After the hour mark (in the 74th minute), there was a moment in the game when he was surrounded by Luke Shaw, Casemiro and Alejandro Garnacho - two of whom have been phenomenal with their defensive duties recently - and still he managed to get the ball past that cage to Harvey Elliot.
Though De Gea made a save off Darwin Nunez’s cross in the follow-up, Salah visibly tore into United’s marking at Anfield.
Shaw, who has recently established himself as a proper centre-back, was deployed at his conventional left-back position with the task of marking Trent Alexander-Arnold, while Salah cherished the wide space left for him to exploit.
And that he did. He assisted two goals from the right, made runs behind the (United) defence in the centre to score and kept Ten Hag and his men guessing with his off-the-ball movement.
When Lisandro Martinez, a FIFA World Cup 2022 winner, tried to get the ball off him, Salah’s dribble outright embarrassed the centre-back as Klopp grinned on the sidelines.
Dangerous in a different role
Salah’s spell at Liverpool started in 2017 with him being named a former Chelsea winger, a Roma outcast to a one-season wonder.
But the Egyptian – unlike a Piers Morgan interview – has allowed his records to speak for himself as Liverpool has seen him mature, both as a forward and a team player.
In his first season, he broke the record of Cristiano Ronaldo (Man United, 2007/08) – who was tied with Luis Suárez (Liverpool, 2013/14) and Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers, 1995/1996) – of most goals in a 38-game season, netting 32 times as he won the Golden Boot.
With Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, he formed one of the most feared trios in modern football, scoring 338 goals together, between 2017 to 2022. Salah scored 156 of them while the three became Klopp’s head of ‘heavy-metal football’.
One of the most crucial bits of a squad in transition is the ability to take charge and blend playmaking accordingly.
Firmino’s inconsistent injury record pushed Mane to a No. 9 while Liverpool rummaged through the transfer market for a striker. Though it signed Diogo Jota from Wolverhampton Wanderers, its hunt finally ended after signing Nunez from Benfica last summer.
In that spell, Salah has transgressed from a conventional winger – who gets a long ball, cuts to the centre and scores – to one who distorts the shape of the opposition with a wider position along the right wing.
Compared to the 2020-21 season, where the 30-year-old scored 31 goals and assisted six times, he already has 11 assists with 22 goals this season.
With two assists against United, he has 54 assists in the Premier League now, level with Mesut Ozil, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard – two of whom are attacking midfielders, not forwards.
He is the only Liverpool player, other than Steven Gerrard, to have 50 goals and assists each, in the Premier League, and the only player to have both scored and assisted in eight different games for an English club in UEFA Champions League history.
Salah, the goal scorer has shifted to Salah, the provider.
An inconsistent Liverpool saw Klopp drop Salah after a 0-3 drubbing to Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League in January.
With 10 goal involvements in nine matches (six goals, four assists) since that match, Salah has risen from the dust of Giza to become the Pharaoh of Merseyside – one who scores, assists goals and above all decimates the prized rival, Manchester United.
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