Won­der goal crowns stun­ning hat-trick

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Jim White at the Vi­tal­ity Sta­dium

In a place where they had been only two seasons ago com­pre­hen­sively em­bar­rassed, Liver­pool were im­pe­ri­ous.

Se­cur­ing a vic­tory that took them to the top of the Pre­mier League, they is­sued a vol­u­ble state­ment of in­tent. Re­silient, re­source­ful and sprin­kled with the stardust of a Mo Salah hat-trick, this was a win that oozed au­thor­ity.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, it might be con­sid­ered one that an­nounced im­pend­ing cham­pi­ons. The trou­ble is this sea­son Manch­ester City have up­ended all con­cep­tion of nor­mal. “We con­trolled it, all the lit­tle runs we made opened up the gaps,” said Jur­gen Klopp, the Liver­pool man­ager.

“But what­ever you do in a foot­ball game, you need some­one to fin­ish it all off, and what Mo did to­day with his goals was ex­cep­tional.”

With Napoli on the hori­zon in a crit­i­cal Cham­pi­ons League tie on Tues­day night, Klopp made five changes from the bruis­ing mid­week en­counter with Burn­ley. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, Salah and Roberto Firmino were re­stored, back to cause panic in the Bournemouth ranks. In truth, Salah started as if a lit­tle rusty, ced­ing pos­ses­sion and fail­ing to find a proper pass. Then, af­ter 26 min­utes, he re­lo­cated the radar that made him such a threat last sea­son and spun a fine pass into the feet of his Brazil­ian strike part­ner. Firmino shot, As­mir Be­govic par­ried when he might have smoth­ered and the ball bounced to the feet of a sus­pi­ciously ad­vanced Salah who, af­ter a guilty look for a lines­man’s flag, tucked it into the net.

Much to the cha­grin of the home crowd, con­vinced he was well off­side – con­firmed to be the case later by TV re­plays – the goal stood.

Ed­die Howe was not alone in sens­ing that the goal was the turn­ing point. Until then the Bournemouth man­ager’s con­tain­ing tac­tics had worked.

But now for his team there was a fresh prob­lem. Set up to de­fend, to al­low Liver­pool to have the ball and to threaten on the break, the early breach meant the home side had quickly to seize the ini­tia­tive. They tried: David Brooks was full of in­ven­tion, Joshua King a flurry of flicks and feints as they tried to re-es­tab­lish them­selves.

How­ever, they were fash­ion­ing space rather than op­por­tu­nity. And with Cal­lum Wil­son side­lined with a ham­string is­sue (which made Gareth South­gate’s trip to the coast some­what point­less, un­less the Eng­land man­ager was try­ing to per­suade James Mil­ner to re­scind his re­tire­ment), there seemed lit­tle chance of cre­at­ing some­thing from noth­ing.

Bournemouth’s best chance in the first half fell to Nathan Ake who, find­ing him­self en­tirely unat­tended at the far post from a cor­ner kick, skewed the ball be­hind.

Yet, con­stantly the threat was there from Liver­pool, Salah haring af­ter through balls, Andy Robert­son ever ea­ger in sup­port.

As Klopp read­ily ad­mits, this is his most sub­stan­tial Liver­pool squad. Maybe not as cor­us­cat­ing in their play as at times last sea­son, they are more res­o­lute, more ro­bust in the chal­lenge, tougher to beat. The three mid­field­ers the man­ager bought in the sum­mer all started here and seemed to have been eas­ily as­sim­i­lated into the Klopp process: Naby Keita and Fabinho were pre­cise and eco­nom­i­cal, while Xhe­dran Shaqiri, his vo­lu­mi­nous shorts and long socks giv­ing him the ap­pear­ance of hav­ing no legs what­so­ever, was al­ways seek­ing open­ings in the mid­dle.

And then there was Mil­ner slid­ing into a chal­lenge on Ju­nior Stanis­las of a sort which, had he been wear­ing Burn­ley colours, would have had his man­ager self-com­bust­ing on the touch­line. Salah later gave his man-of-the-match award to Mil­ner in hon­our of his 500th Pre­mier League match.

With a swirling wind send­ing empty crisp pack­ets scut­tling across the turf, con­trol was at a pre­mium. And, with the sec­ond half barely un­der way, Liver­pool had more of it. When Steve Cook let the ball spin off his foot into Firmino’s path, the re­sponse was in­evitable. Firmino im­me­di­ately found Salah, who sped for­ward. With a crude lunge at his Achilles, Cook tried to hack him down, but he sped on and slipped the ball pre­cisely into the cor­ner of Be­govic’s net. No need to check with the lines­man this time.

Worse was to come for the hap­less Cook. First he man­aged to scoop a Robert­son cross past Be­govic to gift Liver­pool a third. Then his mis­ery was com­pleted when he was out­paced by Salah in the dash af­ter sub­sti­tute Adam Lal­lana’s deft through pass. He got a foot to the ball, but the Liver­pool for­ward sim­ply sped on, rounded Be­govic not once but twice, to com­plete his hat­trick. It was the smartest of goals, one brim­ming with con­fi­dence, with ap­pli­ca­tion, with sheer aplomb. “He looked very good to­day,” ad­mit­ted Howe. “We re­ally strug­gled to con­tain him.”

Two seasons ago, Bournemouth had come back from what ap­peared to be a cer­tain ham­mer­ing, to beat Liver­pool 4-3 here. But not for a mo­ment did a re­peat seem likely. Largely be­cause this is a very dif­fer­ent Liver­pool. “They’re a lot more ro­bust,” was Howe’s as­sess­ment. “They’re stronger phys­i­cally, tac­ti­cally. They are a bet­ter side.”

He has a point. Bel­liger­ent, de­ter­mined and with Salah ad­ding the most ef­fer­ves­cent of flour­ishes, this is a Liver­pool look­ing fully geared up for the long haul.

At the third stroke: Liver­pool’s Mo­hamed Salah rounds Bournemouth keeper As­mir Be­govic to seal his hat-trick at the Vi­tal­ity Sta­dium yes­ter­day

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