Salah’s double strike brings Egyptian’s goal tally to 12 in 17 starts as Reds run riot
When it comes to the effect of Mohamad Salah on Liverpool, it is enough to know that his two goals against West Ham took him to within two of the total of 14 that Philippe Coutinho managed in the entire campaign last season, when he finished as the club’s leading goalscorer.
Salah scored his 11th and 12th against an admittedly shambolic West Ham defence, although the home team were cut apart by the Egyptian and his teammate Sadio Mane, back from injury after just two training sessions. By the time the international break is over Jurgen Klopp hopes to have Adam Lallana and Coutinho fit again and a side that was taken apart at Wembley by Tottenham last weekend may be in a position to renew their challenge.
Liverpool won their third consecutive game, a feat they have not managed since August and much of it was down to
Salah who now has 12 goals this season and resumed his partnership with Mane in a fine breakaway goal for Liverpool’s first. Salah came to the club in the summer, Klopp said, as the unanimous pick of the scouting department and the coaching staff, a £34million acquisition from
Roma who already looks value for money. “We watched him so often,” Klopp said later, “and the scouting department wanted to do it even earlier so no one else can jump in but we had a lot of different options. He was the decision of all of us. When you find a situation when everybody doing the job agrees on one player, you can be sure it will work. It is really nice to have him in the team. He is a real goal threat, he is an offensive midfield player who is more a striker. He needed to adapt to the different style.”
The Liverpool manager lost Jordan Henderson to injury on the morning of the game having drilled his players in a new 4-4-2 system, that allowed them to defend deeper, with his captain to play in central midfield. Georgino Wijnaldum, who had not expected to be ready after a midweek injury against Maribor, travelled with the team only in order to get treatment and ended up starting after he made a quick recovery. The only problem, Klopp said, was that he had not brought his boots with
him. It was Mane though, whose recovery astounded the Liverpool manager, playing 87 minutes after picking up that hamstring injury during the last international break with Senegal. “I decided after one session [that Mane was ready],” Klopp said, “but he had another one after that. He is a naturally fit player, a little machine.”
There was also a first goal in a Liverpool shirt for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, another from Joel Matip and by the end West Ham were a smoking wreck, booed off at half-time and then again at the end. Slaven Bilic’s job is on the line over this international break, and with the possibility that the board may bring in David Moyes to try to save them from the threat of relegation, despite Moyes taking Sunderland down last season.
“There are two situations,” said Bilic afterwards. “One is that, of course, I be- lieve in myself, my staff, my team, I’m a big fighter.
“On the other hand the situation for West Ham is not good and the club is above every individual, and that includes me. I know my values and if I’m anything I’m a strong man and a big believer in myself, and I’m the one taking the bullets all the time.
“But are we playing well? No, we are not. It’s my duty, it’s me that has to take responsibility.”
In previous weeks Bilic’s players have done just enough to keep their manager in a job, with that stirring Carabao Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur papering over a few cracks. Yet this squad should be a good deal better off than one point above the relegation zone. Bilic changed systems at halftime with his team two behind and sent Andy Carroll on to throw himself at his former club but it was already too late. It had been 22 minutes into the first half when Salah first struck and West Ham’s players seemed still to be ruminating on the first bad goal they had conceded when, barely two minutes later they conspired to concede a second.
Bilic’s players had failed to lock the back door while they pushed up to take a corner in the 22nd minute and within seconds, Salah had won the ball and flicked it to Mane who was free to run two-thirds of the length of the pitch without an opponent to challenge him. With only a frantically back-pedalling Aaron Cresswell between them and Joe Hart’s goal, Mane picked his moment perfectly to play in his team-mate Salah to score.
Around two minutes later Salah hit a corner low to the near post where Wijnaldum ran towards the ball, missed it and things got worse for the home side from there on in. Mark Noble was unable to stop the ball cannoning off his leg and as a consequence Hart had to make a save that pushed the ball out to Matip who scored from close range.
Klopp said it had been a late call to
change to a 4-4-2 system that he acknowledged often seemed more like 4-2-4.
“It looked from the beginning like a very offensive line up. We had a different idea we wanted to be deeper, more compact and using the space which we have for the counter attacks. We will never know how it could have been if we didn’t score the first one. It was an open game until then. We had to get used to it. The boys had to wait a little more than to jump in [to challenge].”
There was some brief respite for West Ham when Manuel Lanzini scored a fine second half goal, arriving behind Joe Gomez for an Andre Ayew cross hit to the back post, where the Argentinian took the ball on his chest and struck a sweet improvised volley.
The third goal for Liverpool that followed in less than 60 seconds. It was made by the startling first touch of Roberto Firmino who controlled and turned with the ball beautifully before striking a throughball to Oxlade-Cham- berlain. Hart saved the first time and the Englishman buried the rebound. Liverpool’s fourth goal was a travesty of defensive disorganisation for West Ham, with Mane riding a couple of tackles, falling over and getting up again before picking out Salah on the left side of the box. There was no pressure on the ball, or urgency from West Ham, and Salah rattled in his second.
Bilic was again booed for replacing Hernandez with Diafra Sakho but then it seems that nothing the West Ham manager tries to do really works. His team have no urgency and have not won their last four league games. When you watch them it comes as little surprise.
West Ham (3-4-3): Hart 6; Kouyate 4, Reid 4, Ogbonna 4; Fernandes (Carroll 45) 4, Noble (Arnautovic 61) 5, Obiang 5, Cresswell 5; Ayew 4, Lanzini 6, Hernandez (Sakho 72) 5. Subs Adrian (g), Haksabanovic, Masuaku, Rice. Booked Reid, Noble, Lanzini. Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Mignolet 6; Gomez 5, Matip 6, Klavan 6, Moreno 6; Wijnaldum 6, Can 7; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lovren 87) 7, Salah 8, Mane (Milner 77) 7; Firmino (Solanke 87) 7. Subs Karius (g), Sturridge, Grujic, Alexander-Arnold. Referee N Swarbrick (Preston).
Under threat: West Ham’s Slaven Bilic will fear for his job
Opening salvo: Mohamed Salah slots past Joe Hart for his and Liverpool’s first goal