It looked set to be a rare off-day for Mo Salah. The Liverpool forward’s early afternoon work had been more low-key than normal with, arguably, his only moment of note being a curling shot he sent over Jordan Pickford’s crossbar.
However, Salah has been at Liverpool now for six seasons and such has been his enduring impact that no one can feel safe to write him off even when he has been below normal lofty standards.
And so it came to pass. Salah struck twice to win the Merseyside derby for Liverpool and ensure they registered their first Premier League victory in three games.
Not only did the 30-year-old have the Kop in the palm of his hand as he wheeled off in celebration after scoring his second in stoppage time, but he also reached another milestone by overtaking Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard into fifth place on the club’s all-time Anfield scorers list.
Having scored the opener from the penalty spot in the 75th minute, Salah also became the first Liverpool player since Peter Beardsley 32 years ago to score in Anfield’s opening four league matches.
What’s more, this was the 15th consecutive league outing in which the Egypt international has either scored or assisted. Even as the afternoon largely passed him by — Alisson had more touches — and, at times, he appeared off the pace, Salah collected himself to once again score the big goals when Liverpool were in need of them.
“What I love most about Mo is that Mo Salah played for us an incredible amount of fantastic games,” Jurgen Klopp said.
“Today it was not his best game but being that clinical is probably his biggest quality and I love that, because you need somebody that brings the ball over the line. I couldn’t respect that fact more.
“[His scoring recording] is absolutely outstanding. The numbers are crazy. He will never stop, that is his nature and that’s really cool for us.”
Salah was calmness personified when waiting for referee Craig Pawson to award the penalty for Michael Keane’s handball. Everton may have started to see the finish line but Liverpool’s chief goalscorer was unrelenting in his punishment, and the spot-kick gave Pickford no chance.
For Salah’s second, a lot of it was down to substitute Darwin Nunez — who perfectly timed his pass for his sixth assist for his strike partner this term — but the finish was unerring, with the ball somehow caressed delicately yet powerfully into the net.
Those two clinical moments epitomise Salah. Virgil van Dijk praised his team-mate’s relentless energy whilst Dominik Soboszlai talked about him always “trusting himself” with the net in view.
Salah’s latest intervention also came at the end of a week in which he posted on social media sympathy for the innocent victims of war in Gaza and called for “humanity” to prevail. One can never underestimate the weight on Salah’s shoulders as one of the leading sports figures in the Arab world.
Everton's defence put in valiant effort
Why had Salah been so quiet on the pitch during the first hour or so of this Merseyside derby? Well, a lot was down to an impressive performance from Everton’s left-back Vitalii Mykolenko. The Ukrainian, another player dealing with heart-wrenching trouble close to home, was valiant and frequently displayed good judgement and timing to halt his opponent.
In truth, overall, this was a good defensive showing from Everton; particularly because they were down a man for close to an hour after Ashley Young’s sending off. Not for the first time Sean Dyche’s team showed good character and a rather accomplished rearguard effort.
By the end, it was easier to reel off Everton candidates for Player of the Match than it was for Liverpool. Admittedly they were all defenders (James Tarkowski, Jarrad Branthwaite and Mykolenko) but nevertheless highlighted that the home team were far from their best.
The Everton manager used all manner of adjectives to describe the referee’s failure to give Ibrahima Konate a second yellow card for a pull on Beto and was right to be aggrieved. Levelling the numbers on the pitch, when the game was still goalless, would have had some impact on the final quarter. But Salah is always capable of taking the game away from you.