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Little more Liverpool can do in quest for Prem title

Written by 
Published in Soccer
Friday, 26 April 2019 16:08

LIVERPOOL, England -- Mohamed Salah was tweeting pictures from a pizza restaurant in New York City on Tuesday afternoon before he went on to share the spotlight with Taylor Swift and Emilia Clarke at the Time 100 Gala at the Lincoln Center later that evening.

He then flew back across the Atlantic on Wednesday, reporting for training at Liverpool on Thursday, so it's fair to say that the forward ignored a few of the classic "dos and don'ts" when it comes to preparing for a big game ahead of his team's 5-0 victory against Huddersfield Town on Friday. But by the end of the game, which saw Jurgen Klopp's side reclaim top spot in the Premier League and move two points clear of Manchester City, nobody was questioning Salah's decision to spend two days in the United States ahead of a fixture that Liverpool simply had to win.

Had it gone wrong, with Liverpool dropping points or Salah picking up an injury that risked his participation against Barcelona in next week's Champions League semifinal first leg, then the 26-year-old would doubtless have been forced to defend himself against accusations of taking his eye off the ball. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine Manchester United's Paul Pogba making a similar trip without finding himself deluged by criticism and suggestions of poor preparation and misguided priorities.

But perhaps the difference between Salah and Pogba is that the Liverpool forward, whose two goals against Huddersfield made him the top scorer in the Premier League this season with 21 so far, always delivers, no matter the circumstances. He might not score in every game, but even when he does not hit the back of the net, Salah makes a contribution as a team player, as highlighted by his eight Premier League assists this term.

It was the same against Huddersfield, with Salah creating the opening goal for Naby Keita after just 16 seconds by feeding his teammate after a defensive mistake by Jon Gorenc Stankovic. The fact that Salah went on to score twice himself felt like a footnote to his performance, which belied any hint of jet lag following his trip to New York, which was approved by Klopp due to the manager's insistence that the player is an influential figure in the battle against racism and Islamophobia.

"Mo is a very smart person and his role is very influential," Klopp said. "In the world at the moment, it is very important that you have people like Mo."

Perhaps in the world of modern sport, where players are surrounded by every kind of expert capable of making them discover that elusive extra 1 percent, a 48-hour trans-Atlantic trip really is nothing to worry about in terms of performance and recovery. After all, international footballers can make the journey from Bolivia to Burnley and still get off a plane ready to play 90 minutes of Premier League action, so New York to the northwest of England really isn't that much of an ordeal.

But it also goes to show how the likes of Salah can rise to the occasion, no matter how draining or gruelling their schedule. The former Chelsea and Roma forward has not hit the heights of last season, when he scored 32 goals in 36 Premier League games, but nobody else has registered more league goals than him this campaign.

Sadio Mané's two headers against Huddersfield took him to 20 league goals, to move ahead of Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (both on 19) as Salah's closest challenger for the Golden Boot, but don't be surprised if the Egyptian wins it again. This was his 100th appearance for Liverpool in all competitions since his £36.9 million transfer from Roma in July 2017 and, by scoring twice to take his tally for the club to 69, he claimed the Anfield record for most goals in his first 100 games.

Whether Salah's goal-scoring feats are enough to win silverware for his team is another matter, however. Although this win moved Liverpool on to 91 points, City can climb ahead of them again on Sunday with a victory at Burnley.

Two more victories, against Newcastle and Wolves, will see Liverpool end the season on 97 points, but it still might not be enough to win the title for the first time since 1990. It definitely won't be enough if City win their final three games to end up with 98 points.

Liverpool have lost just once in the league all season -- against City at the Etihad -- and they have now scored 104 goals in all competitions. Neither they nor Salah could have feasibly done much more, but they could still fall short.

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