There may come a point in time when Sadio Mane does not score against Crystal Palace but not yet and not now. The Senegalese’s habitual goal brought up two landmarks in one swish of his right boot and allowed Liverpool’s supporters to chorus about being top of the league.
Mane represents Jurgen Klopp’s first great signing and, if there has been plenty of proof of that over the last five years, more arrived when the winger brought up a century.
“Exceptional,” Klopp said. “It is a massive achievement that in the glorious history of this club only 18 players could score 100 goals.”
Mane is now one and Mohamed Salah, already a member of that elite group and another who belongs in the category of Klopp’s finest bits of business, joined him among the goals. “That Mo scored should not be a massive surprise.” Klopp said.
Mane now finds himself alongside Anfield legends such as Ian Rush, Roger Hunt, Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard in the hundred club while, in a different respect, he is twinned with Robin van Persie. The former Arsenal and Manchester United forward was alone in scoring in nine successive Premier League games against the same opponent. Stoke were his luckless victims, but Mane has preyed on Palace to the same extent.
“Right place, right time, I am lucky,” said a modest Mane, but it is little wonder Liverpool have won all nine games. “I love to play against Crystal Palace,” the Senegalese added.
That ninth victory was garnished by a glorious goal by Naby Keita, volleying in from the edge of the area after Vicente Guaita had punched Salah’s corner away. The others followed set-pieces, too.
“You expect here to concede goal in open play,” said Patrick Vieira. “But when you concede from three set-pieces, you can't expect to take anything.”
The luckless Guaita made a string of fine saves and excelled to parry a Salah header from Kostas Tsimikas’ corner but Mane had the speed of thought and foot to react fastest, get to the loose ball, swivel, shoot and bring up a ton. Salah was on hand to volley in when Virgil van Dijk headed on; now on 99 league goals for Liverpool, he is on the brink of another milestone.
And yet this was not one-way traffic. “It is one of the most hard-fought 3-0s ever,” said Klopp. “We had to give everything.” Palace contributed much. “Losing 3-0 is quite severe with the chances we created,” Vieira added.
His side struck the woodwork twice in the opening two minutes, which made for an eventful start to Ibrahima Konate’s Liverpool debut.
Klopp altered his entire back four, with Trent Alexander-Arnold a late withdrawal after reporting ill over breakfast and Conor Gallagher, maintaining his bright start to his Palace career, fed a ball over the new-look Liverpool defence, Wilfried Zaha eluded the makeshift right-back James Milner and tried to lob Alisson. The goalkeeper did terrifically to touch the ball on to the post. Defiant then, he was then beaten when Christian Benteke headed against the upright, but the former Liverpool forward was offside.
Palace could rue twin chances Odsonne Edouard squandered in his substitute appearance; one with a poor touch, one with a shot, each answered by the excellent Alisson. That a match with 38 shots only contained three goals was an illustration of fine goalkeeping at both ends, with Guaita denying Jordan Henderson, Keita and Salah.
It showed, too, the wastefulness of Diogo Jota, who blazed over when the goal gaped after Guaita had made a superb save from Thiago. “Today we were not brilliant, but we were good,” Klopp said. But over five years at Anfield, Mane has been brilliant.