To hear some people tell it, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is slumping. It didn’t matter that he came into the weekend as the Premier League’s second-leading goal scorer, all that mattered was that his numbers aren’t as good as they were this time last year when he was finishing off one of the greatest individual seasons in English soccer history. But then he scored the second goal in the Reds’ 2-0 win over Chelsea this weekend to remind everyone that, yes, he is still one of the world’s best players.
The Egyptian forward was in sparkling form throughout Sunday’s must-win matchup with the Blues. Though he flubbed an early chance, shinning a ball he really should have put into the back of the net, Salah was a huge part of the Liverpool fast-moving attack during the opening 45 minutes, making runs into threatening areas and linking up with his teammates repeatedly as they bore down on the Chelsea goal.
Then came the second half, and Salah showed he’s still the player he was last year. He played a vital role in the build-up to Sadio Mane’s opener, then, a little over two minutes later, he gathered the ball five yards outside the box, cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable swerving strike past the diving hands of a helpless Kepa Arrizabalaga into the top corner to effectively end the game with 40 minutes left.
It was a strike of such intensity that even Salah’s biggest defenders were in awe. Following the game, manager Jurgen Klopp put it best when he told reporters, “It blew me away.”
Like Manchester City, Salah seems to have been a victim of his own success. The forward was never going to replicate a season in which he scored a staggering 32 goals and assisted with 10 others. The 42 goals he was responsible for were more than eight full teams managed all of last season. But despite some barren periods, including scoring only once in the previous 10 league games, Salah is having a more-than-respectable follow-up campaign. Sunday’s goal tied him with City’s Sergio Aguero, almost certainly the Premier League’s striker of the decade, for the league lead. And just like last season, Salah’s made sure his teammates are taken care of, tallying seven assists with four games left to play.
But more than his stats, Salah came up big when his team needed him. Though it’s struggled at times since the turn of the calendar, Chelsea showed up to play on Sunday. But so did Salah and because of that the Reds are back on top of the table, even if they’ve played a game more than Man City. Liverpool is currently locked in an intense, down-to-the-wire title race with Man City and needs all of its players to lift their game over the season’s final weeks if they’re to come out on top. This weekend, Salah did his part and in the process, gave his team and its fans a moment they’ll remember forever if they do win it all.
Kiss of the Week
Ashley Barnes, Burnley
That’s certainly one way to deescalate a situation. Following a harsh, and kind of dirty, tackle from Cardiff’s Joe Bennett, Barnes did what most Premier League tough guys tend to do and got right up in the defender’s face. But whereas most players tend to go for a headnudge or full-on headbutt at that point, depending on how angry they are, Barnes did something probably no one expected and gave Bennett a few pecks on the nose.
Bad Officiating of the Week
Graham Scott, Manchester United vs. West Ham
Having one call swing a game against you is tough to deal with, but two is something else. That’s what happened to West Ham on Saturday, which managed to lose to a game it thoroughly dominated thanks to two calls by referee Scott. A blown offsides call cost the team the opener early in the first half, a mistake that was compounded minutes later when an extremely harsh penalty gifted United their first goal. These are the sort of things that VAR is meant to fix, but unfortunately for West Ham the review system won’t be used in the Premier League until next season.