Goal by goal, landmark after landmark, Mohamed Salah is securing his place in Anfield history. Four years, six months and seven days after his debut, he brought up 150 goals for Liverpool with a strike that combined pace, audacity and importance.
“No one could imagine when he scored the first that he could score 149 [more] in such a short period of time,” beamed Jürgen Klopp and as Salah became Liverpool’s second quickest player to 150 — faster than Robbie Fowler, speedier than Ian Rush, sooner than Michael Owen, Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard or Billy Liddell — he left a host of greats trailing in his wake and helped transform an awkward afternoon into an enjoyable one.
It was about the spectacular as well as the statistical and it was capped by a wonderful first Liverpool goal for Luis Díaz. Their other scorers, Sadio Mane and Salah, have both become centurions and Klopp is encouraged by the precedents. “If Luis could be on a similar journey, it would be cool,” he said.
Yet this had threatened to be a historic occasion instead for Norwich City. Liverpool’s eighth successive win only came after they trailed. Inter Milan had failed to record a shot on target against Klopp’s team. Norwich did and led. For a heady quarter of an hour, they could dream of a first victory here since Jeremy Goss scored the final goal in front of the old Kop in 1994. Then Liverpool’s African attackers intervened in three minutes of brutal cruelty for Norwich.
They contained a beauty for Liverpool. Mane’s acrobatics was, Klopp said, “an incredible finish.” When Jordan Henderson floated a cross to the left and Kostas Tsimikas headed it back across the penalty area, Mane reacted with a brilliant overhead kick. Minus the injured Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino, he had a rare outing as a striker, a role he may play more often if Díaz cements his place in Klopp’s strongest side. This was an auspicious start. For Tsimikas, who twice almost scored in the first half, the assist was a reflection of his influence; as Klopp made seven changes, some of their understudies were underwhelming. Not him.
Then Salah plucked Alisson’s long ball out of the air. “A great pass but has travelled 80 yards in the air,” lamented Norwich manager Dean Smith.“An insane touch,” added Klopp. The Egyptian darted away from Angus Gunn and, almost in slow motion, rolled his shot past Norwich’s retreating defenders. “A really cheeky one,” his manager added. Salah’s 150 goals came in just 233 games, and only Roger Hunt has taken fewer for Liverpool. While he would have got there slightly quicker but for a goal-line clearance by Mathias Normann, his hunger was reflected as he set off in pursuit of a 151st. A curler went just wide, a long-range drive was parried, a third effort was dragged past the near post. Brandon Williams was tormented.
Salah’s strike came courtesy of Alisson; it was the second time the shot-stopper has assisted one of his goals. With Trent Alexander-Arnold rested — Joe Gomez instead laboured on his first league start in 468 days at right-back — Liverpool needed someone to compensate for the creativity of the player with the most assists in the division. Improbably, their goalkeeper obliged. The least meaningful goal for the result may acquire the greatest long-term significance. Liverpool committed £50m for a scorer and, from Henderson’s defence-splitting pass, Díaz dinked a shot over Gunn. “Hendo, wow,” gushed Klopp.
Norwich could console themselves with evidence of their improvement. “We can take an awful lot of confidence,” said Smith. They had sieved seven goals at Chelsea and five at Manchester City. There was no hat-trick of humiliations away at the top three and they consigned one unflattering fact to the past. They were yet to score against the top nine this season. Their wait was ended with the unwitting aid of Joel Matip, Milot Rashica’s 20-yard shot taking a telling deflection off the defender to leave Alisson motionless.
Fortunate as it was, Norwich could have struck earlier, Teemu Pukki angling the first half’s finest chance past the post. “I have to be a realist and ultimately we got what we deserved: nil points,” added Smith. “But it took a front three of Salah, Mane and Diaz to ultimately take the points away from us.”
Yet while Liverpool ended with 29 shots and three wonderful goals, Klopp said: “It was complicated.” If the figures flattered his side on what was not always their most cohesive or convincing performance, Salah again won the numbers game.