London: When Liverpool cleared a corner and the ball arrived at Mohammad Salah’s feet 20 yards inside his own half at Southampton on Friday there was just one thing on the Egyptian’s mind.
A handful of seconds later, after a searing 50-metre run, his left-foot shot flew past Angus Gunn to give Liverpool the lead on a nail-biting night on the south coast.
Jordan Henderson scored another one to make it 3-1 and confirm Liverpool’s place back on top of the Premier League, but the defining moment was Salah’s drought-busting effort.
He had not scored for eight matches, his worst run at Liverpool, but his 80th-minute intervention could not have been better-timed. It was his 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool and, more importantly, proved that any concern over his form in the title run-in could be put to bed.
With five league games left Salah is undeniably back.
“What a goal! Wow, what a goal!” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, who hugged his striker on the pitch as Liverpool’s fans roared out their song about the “Egyptian King”.
Salah is the eighth Liverpool player to score 50 Premier League goals, but his half century arrived in only 69 games, three fewer than Fernando Torres, the previous quickest to the mark.
Only two other players in the Premier League era have reached the landmark quicker — Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy and Alan Shearer for Blackburn Rovers.
Klopp told reporters he had never doubted Salah would rediscover his scoring touch.
“It was never in doubt about him being a great player from my side,” Klopp said. “It was goal number 50 I heard for Liverpool, that’s an incredible number,” the German said.
“As a striker, you have chances and each striker is a human being — maybe you have better moments and less good moments. But he is pretty consistent, his physical things are always there. He always stayed calm to deal with the situation.” Liverpool were not at their best, especially in a sluggish first half when they gave the ball away cheaply too often and Southampton threatened to add to their ninth-minute opener scored by Shane Long.
But once Naby Keita levelled with a deflected header in the 36th minute, his first goal for Liverpool, the visitors were relentless in their pursuit of a crucial win.
Klopp’s side have now won seven of their last eight Premier League games when conceding the opening goal — a resilience that will be causing concern at relentless Manchester City who now trail by two points having played a game less.
“The season is intense for everyone,” Klopp said. “The performance was not top level but it is about fighting.
“People want us to play like Manchester City, we are unable to do that, we play our own football. We have 82 points now, that is massive in this crazy league and everyone is waiting for us. I am really proud. It is incredible.
“It is a difficult year for everybody, you need to have 70-75 points for the (top-four) Champions League and 90-something for the title.
“We are in the race and that is nice.”