When Mohamed Salah left Chelsea with a mere two Premier League goals to his name, he was in danger of being bracketed among the division’s failures. Instead, he now finds himself at home alongside the some of its legends.
A poacher’s finish made Salah the fifth quickest player to reach a century of goals since the division’s inception in 1992. Only Alan Shearer, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Thierry Henry have brought up the landmark in fewer than his 162 games; not for the first time, Salah illustrated he belongs in their company.
That 162nd match brought an emphatic win and would have been a happier occasion for Liverpool but for one moment. Theirs was a terrific performance, dominant, creative and solid, and victory took them level on points with the early-season pacesetters. Yet it was clouded by the loss of Harvey Elliott and the initial fears are that they will not see the precocious teenager again for quite some time.
Jurgen Klopp had been planning to bring on Jordan Henderson for Elliott when Pascal Struijk challenged the winger. He collapsed in agony, with Salah gesturing frantically to the bench, and was stretchered off with what appears a major ankle injury. Struijk was sent off, a substitute failing to finish the game.
It amounted to a dreadful day for Leeds’ defence. Struijk was only summoned because Diego Llorente limped off. The summer signing Junior Firpo was tormented by Salah and Liverpool exploited the weaknesses on the left half of Leeds’ back four. A problem from last season recurred when they conceded from a corner for the second goal, converted by Fabinho.
In midfield, with the exception of Kalvin Phillips, they were outclassed. Their day was bookended by moments of class; in the closing minutes, Patrick Bamford attempted to lob Alisson from 50 yards and the backpedalling goalkeeper just averted embarrassment.
At the start, Phillips provided a lovely diagonal pass and Raphinha found Rodrigo, who was denied by Alisson. But apart from giving a debut to the deadline-day signing Dan James, who came off the bench, it was otherwise a humbling experience for Leeds.
Liverpool amassed 30 shots and probably should have scored from more. There was a redemptive element to Sadio Mane finally finding the net in injury time, when the impressive Thiago Alcantara found him; his litany of misses had included a glaring one from five yards, which he contrived to skew over the bar.
But Salah has repeatedly proved Liverpool’s best finisher and their greatest guarantee of goals. So it was again, as the winger who has doubled up as a predator materialised to finish from six yards. He met Trent Alexander-Arnold’s low cross to complete a move that owed much to Joel Matip, bringing the ball out of defence and to the verge of the Leeds box.
Salah’s shooting was accompanied by an illustration of his crossing; from one chipped ball in, Diogo Jota perhaps should have scored but Illan Meslier was able to claw away his volley. From another, Thiago headed in, but Salah had been offside.
Mane had taken the injured Roberto Firmino’s spot in the middle of the Liverpool attack, with Jota deployed to his left. Each was lively and Liverpool were relentless. If their transfer window had felt underwhelming to many, a performance of this stature was a reminder they already possessed plenty of quality. Elliott, who had been preferred to Jordan Henderson, displayed as much in a performance that seemed to promise much before it was sadly curtailed.
But he left with Liverpool two goals to the good. If both sides were initially grateful their Brazilians were permitted to play, Leeds must have rued it when Fabinho prodded home. Leeds allowed Virgil van Dijk to head Alexander-Arnold’s corner into Fabinho’s path. Mane and Salah could both have scored in the preceding seconds, but Salah’s quest for his 99th and 100th top-flight goals for Liverpool will go on.