Scorers were deep in conversation about half an hour after the final whistle. Kevin de Bruyne was in his flip-flops after conducting a few post-match interviews. Mohamed Salah was in his tracksuit, bag in hand, a man who had sped past Manchester City defenders seemingly looking to make a quick getaway.
Perhaps De Bruyne was reflecting that the only league goals a City side who have displayed plenty of steel have conceded since the opening day came courtesy of Salah’s wizardry. It took something special to break them down but, whether or not the Belgian mentioned it, an amiable chat concluded with a hug.
If the impression was of a mutual-admiration society, Salah received plenty of other plaudits. Sunday’s virtuoso display included an assist for Sadio Mane and a sublime solo goal. Thinking of the late Roger Hunt, Liverpool’s top scorer in the 1960s, Jurgen Klopp described it as the kind of goal that will be spoken about at Anfield in 50 or 60 years’ time.
Certainly Salah has become the sort of figure who will be remembered long after he has left. Jamie Carragher, both a student of Liverpool history and a large part of it, has argued the Egyptian would get in the club’s all-time 11. Longevity can form part of a case and, at 29, Salah could yet rival Hunt, who has 285 goals to his 134, for the title of the their second highest scorer, behind only Ian Rush.
If, that is, he stays. Salah has entered the final two years of his deal. Liverpool announced a raft of new contracts in the summer, tying down Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. But not Salah: there seems to be an impasse.
Salah may be asking for a sum that would render him the Premier League’s best-paid player. On form, he is the finest. While potential title rivals invested heavily in forwards, whether Romelu Lukaku, Cristiano Ronaldo or Jadon Sancho, Salah is the division’s joint top scorer, potentially on course for a third Golden Boot winner, and its most eviscerating attacking force.
But Liverpool’s decision is complicated. Their wage bill has ballooned as players have been rewarded for improvement and excellence. However, there are limits. They did not accede to Gini Wijnaldum’s pay demands and a talisman left on a free transfer, even though Klopp would rather have kept him. With Salah, the question is where the false economy lies.
Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2: player ratings
“Imagine if we would have to buy this boy now,” said Klopp, when Van Dijk re-signed. The same may be said of Liverpool’s Egyptian king. Salah is the one-season wonder who has become the every-season marvel, the guarantee of goals. When Liverpool spend less than their peers in the transfer market, the match-winners they already possess compensate.
Liverpool can be reluctant to give long deals to players who might decline; they have a front three born within nine months of each other. Yet Salah’s chiselled physique and effortless acceleration indicate he has much more to give, whereas Roberto Firmino can feel worn down by his relentless running. The idiosyncratic nature of Klopp’s tactics, where the wingers outscore the supposed striker, may make it still harder to unearth a suitable replacement.
But the issue has rumbled on in the background for a while. There have been occasional hints that Salah has cast his gaze towards Spain, though Barcelona’s financial crisis and Real Madrid’s obsession with Kylian Mbappe may rule out either as a destination. If Salah’s best option may be to remain at Anfield, there is no doubt Liverpool have to find a way to keep him. The cost of losing him could be too great.