Think less Fab Four and more Tormenting Trio. Liverpool are not perfect – particularly defensively – but they have no problems entertaining. The freewheeling three-pronged attack of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and the majestic Mohamed Salah – rightly heralded as the signing of the season – pierced holes across the entire Bournemouth back line for fun, deflating each defender one by one. After 25 minutes, by which point the second of three first-half goals had flown in, Jürgen Klopp was almost fiddling with his face in embarrassment, so devastating is this forward line.
The dribbling, dancing and grooving Salah reached 20 goals in 26 appearances, equalling Daniel Sturridge’s mark. “I do not go to bed at night, thinking: ‘Wow, how good is Salah?’” Klopp said, although he must be in a minority. “He is a very important player for us, like all of the others.”
Twenty goals before Christmas Day, the first player to do so since Ian Rush in 1986-87, and as many goals in a Liverpool shirt as Sadio Mané, no slouch himself in front of goal and left on the bench here, has managed across two seasons. To put that in context, the Egypt winger has got to that 20-goal mark sooner than some of the best Liverpool strikers in history: Fernando Torres, Luis Suárez, Robbie Fowler and Rush, to name a few. Only George Allan, in 1895, reached the milestone quicker, inside 19 matches.
Salah should have got there slightly sooner, too, but after a beautiful give-and-go with Coutinho he fired straight at Asmir Begovic’s legs. Less than a minute later he roasted Charlie Daniels again, soaring through the gears to glide away from the Bournemouth defender before curling home. Klopp described the goal as world-class.
Coutinho, utterly divine in possession, was at the heart of everything but Salah, the season’s top scorer in English football, is unsurprisingly Liverpool’s go-to man, a player who only seems able to perform at a default breakneck speed. In this mood Salah and Liverpool are simply unstoppable.
No matter how much homework Bournemouth had done their defence was pulled apart, powerless to prevent the inevitable once Salah had darted inside. When he was not terrifying defenders himself, he was teeing up his team-mates to do just that, with a lovely second-half flick laying the ball on a plate for Coutinho. For a player riding the crest of a wave Salah is happy to do the dirty work too, tracking back at his man or choosing the unselfish option. With 19 minutes to play Salah’s work was done and he was replaced by Adam Lallana, who made his first appearance since picking up a muscle injury at the back end of November. Salah had toyed with Adam Smith and Daniels, later replaced by Steve Cook, until it was plain unfair. Cook could breathe a sigh of relief when Salah was flagged offside a few minutes later.
The only other time Salah came to a halt was when his suitcase on wheels chinked the skirting boards of the Vitality Stadium corridor after he trudged off the team coach. A wry smile to the television cameras followed; perhaps he knew of the impending suffering he was about to inflict.
It was not just the forward line; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the marauding left-back Andrew Robertson – as Klopp was only too keen to point out afterwards – were also excellent. Oxlade-Chamberlain said Liverpool needed to “open doors to score goals” but they did emphatically more than that, barnstorming Bournemouth at times. “Mo did it again,” the Liverpool winger said.
For all of Liverpool’s brilliance, though, Bournemouth simply made it too easy for them. “I do not want to play Liverpool again any time soon,” Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, said. Not until April at least. “They’ve got pace in attack, creativity and looked solid defensively today.”
Not given a chance to shine in the Premier League by Chelsea in 2011 following a £11m move from Basel, Salah is seizing centre stage over and over again. A club-record move, yes, but surely – privately – even Liverpool did not envisage Salah making quite as big a splash as this this season, weeks before the year is out. At Chelsea, Salah did not muster 20 appearances, let alone 20 goals. By the end there were murmurs of comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
For the slaloming Salah it does not get much better than this.