It was indicative of Mohamed Salah’s approach to football that when his number came up with seven minutes of this match remaining, he looked momentarily crestfallen. Here was a chance to score another goal being taken away – no wonder he pulled his shirt over his head.
For a man as hungrily impatient as he is, even 32 league goals in a season are not enough.
He is not, however, the sort to take umbrage for long. And, as it became clear this was a ceremonial substitution, affording him the honour of a thundering ovation, the familiar smile once again spread across his face. As he made his way off, the chant that echoed round Anfield, acknowledged by his sheepish thumbs-up, was something to savour.
Although as chants go, the suggestion that Liverpool’s Egyptian King spends his time merely running down the wing somewhat underestimates his contribution. Put simply, his goals have made the difference, 44 in 51 appearances. It is the sort of return of the most seasoned poacher.
There is an indication of the metronomic rhythm of Salah’s scoring in the fact that his goal here brought to an end the longest scoring drought he has experienced this season. Since he twice found the net in the Champions League semi-final against Roma at Anfield, he had not scored in three matches. All season when Liverpool needed something, he has come up with the goods.
After the game with Champions League qualification for next season confirmed, for a moment, the stage was entirely Salah’s. Well, his and his smiley infant daughter, whose every kick of the ball was greeted with delighted Ole’s from the Kop. Kenny Dalglish was there too, to present him with a tranche of the awards he has acquired. The King crowning the Egyptian King: there was symbolism at work.
“Everyone tells you how brilliant you are,” said an also smiling Jurgen Klopp of Salah’s personal silverware heist. “They give you an award for everything. You get an award for getting out the car.” Among the baubles Salah picked up was the Golden Boot for the most Premier League goals of the season. And not just this season, but any since the League began in 1992; his tally this year beat the previous record which had been held jointly by Alan Shearer, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Salah’s goal here was a reminder of the quality of his finishing. As Trent Alexander-Arnold accelerated towards the Brighton penalty area, Salah was already on his toes, already peeling away from his marker. As the full-back played the ball into Dominic Solanke, Salah had found a slither of space. And when Solanke deftly flicked the ball into his path, he span on his heels and fired it precisely into the bottom corner of Matt Ryan’s goal. Clean, sharp, lethal in its execution, it was the goal of a master finisher.
Last week as he made a dash by private jet to hoover up more awards, he told the Football Writers’ Association that he had been driven all season by an urge to prove wrong those who reckoned him not up to the Premier League when he had arrived as a 21-year-old at Chelsea.
After what he has achieved, the decision to let him go from Stamford Bridge looks ever more bizarre, the football equivalent of the EMI executives who let the Beatles go. It is impossible not to believe Antonio Conte would have made a better fist of defending his title if 25-year-old Salah was still around Stamford Bridge.
But he isn’t. He is on Merseyside, thriving in a forward line that complements his talents perfectly because Salah is not just a scorer, he is a provider too. The run he made before setting up Solanke for his first goal for the club was typical as he skimmed through the Brighton defence, tying them in knots, before slipping in a beautifully weighted invitation of a pass. Then he set up Firmino with an equally tempting touch, only for Matt Ryan to save. The man is a giver as much as a receiver.
In a fortnight, he will face his biggest challenge, the Champions League final. The Real Madrid scouts watching him here will return to Spain with an alarming dossier of his strengths. The fact is, if Zinedine Zidane’s defenders cannot find a way to stop him, never mind running down the wing, Mo Salah threatens to run them ragged.