Mohamed Salah’s impressive recent run of goal-scoring form continued as Liverpool moved to the top of the Premier League with a surprisingly anxious 4-1 victory over Cardiff at Anfield on Saturday.
Neil Warnock, manager of the newly-promoted Welsh club, had claimed before the game that it was “virtually impossible” for his team to win at Anfield.
Two second-half goals from Sadio Mane, his sixth and seventh of the season, ultimately made sure that prediction came true.
But Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp endured an anxious finale after Cardiff pulled a goal back in the 77th minute – the first league goal Liverpool have conceded at home in 918 minutes, a run dating back to a win over West Ham in February.
Cardiff’s goal came after Junior Hoilett’s cross was deflected off Virgil van Dijk, and Callum Paterson diverted the ball past Alisson, who failed to react in time, to make it 2-1.
There followed seven nerve-testing minutes before substitute Xherdan Shaqiri scored an important third goal, receiving a cross from Salah and moving the ball past two defenders before finishing from 12 yards.
And after 86 minutes, the score-line was given a flattering look when Mane and Salah exchanged passes around the halfway line, and the former advanced before lifting the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.
More importantly, Salah is looking more like the striker of last season after a slow start to the campaign.
With just three goals prior to last weekend’s victory at Huddersfield, the past week has seen the Egypt international edging back towards his irresistible best.
That goal in Yorkshire was followed by two against Red Star Belgrade in a midweek Champions League victory and, after just nine minutes against Cardiff, Salah made it four goals in his last three matches.
It was a powerful but composed finish, the sort of opening he had been snatching at earlier in the season when questions persisted about whether or not he could match last term’s remarkable 44-goal haul.
It followed a steady build-up of Liverpool pressure, Salah back-heeling the ball to Trent Alexander-Arnold whose cross was met by Mane, his shot on the turn being blocked by a defender and, likewise, Fabinho with a follow-up from the rebound.
But the ball broke to Salah at the left-hand post, and he gave Neil Etheridge no chance of making a save with a forceful shot from eight yards.
If Warnock’s efforts to talk down his team’s chances was some form of subtle reverse psychology, it looked in danger of back-firing spectacularly as Liverpool pressed for more goals.
Salah’s precise, hanging cross was met by Van Dijk whose bouncing header struck the post but not until first half injury time, when Sean Morrison headed Adam Lallana’s goal-bound header off the line, did the visitors look in serious danger of conceding again.
It was a close call which would have fuelled Cardiff with a degree of belief at the interval and, within seven minutes of the restart, they had the ball in the Liverpool goal, through Sol Bamba from Victor Camarasa’s free kick, although it was quickly ruled out for a clear offside.
With Liverpool failing to rediscover their attacking momentum of early in the game, Klopp responded by bringing on playmaker Shaqiri after 61 minutes and, just four minutes later, the home side claimed the cushion of a second goal.
Alberto Moreno’s pass picked out Mane in the Cardiff area and, after the striker had successfully shrugged off unconvincing challenges from Bamba and Camarasa, he deposited a clinical finish past the diving Etheridge.AFP