New season, same Mo Salah as Liverpool make flying start with 4-0 win over West Ham
Chris Bascombe, (match report) JJ Bull, (live blog)
So, Mohamed, where were we before Sergio Ramos rudely interrupted?
After a detour via the Real Madrid defender’s much-discussed stretching exercises - and several Russian cities at an unfulfilling World Cup - Mo Salah is back on Premier League duty doing what comes naturally.
Fully fit, scoring in front of The Kop, delivering on the promise of pre-season and ensuring even if this is not the most successful Liverpool team yet, it will continue to be the most talked about when lavish predictions are made.
Salah struck 44 in his first season at Anfield. His opening goal on 19 minutes here was a tap-in, constructed by the penetrating midfield running of Naby Keita and left wing delivery of Andy Robertson, underlining why there will be no pause in his goal hunt. This was Salah’s 29thgoal in 29 Premier League games.
He would have had more but for Lukasz Fabianksi, Liverpool easing to a 4-0 victory having only occasionally needed to break into a gallop against a disappointing, albeit reconstructed West Ham. Liverpool’s new goalkeeper Alisson, rarely needed other than to parade his passing skills, will have to wait for the chance to make a save in English football.
Jurgen Klopp spent the week trying to control growing expectations on Merseyside. They even played the ‘Rocky’ theme before kick-off, a reference to Klopp’s positioning of his side as the streetwise, plucky challengers to Manchester City.
Even he admits his team do not look like rank outsiders, and his side did not follow the script about restraining hype. This was Liverpool’s biggest opening day win since 1994. They have not won by so many at Anfield in their first league game since 1932.
“We know about our expectations and we know there is a really positive atmosphere around us. That is good,” said Klopp.
“But this season will be unbelievably hard. We didn’t win anything since I was in so we have to invest more, we have to fight more and then we will see where it leads.”
Most reassuring for Salah and Klopp, the supply line to the ever-reliable strikers has been reinforced, Keita’s English debut demonstrating how seamlessly he will complement those ahead.
The ‘Fab Four’ lost a founder member when Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona. The concept – which Klopp did not like but is too headline-grabbing to ignore - could be revived with the nimble and clever Keita.
Even with Sadio Mane’s double extending the lead either side of half-time, it was Keita’s introduction that was most eye-catching when Liverpool took control before the break.
Few are yet to accurately define the Guinea midfielder, his game often compared to that of N’Golo Kante during those months last summer when Liverpool tried to secure a deal with RB Leipzig.
This debut confirmed the presence of a player with a different profile to Kante, taking more advanced positions and seeking to link with forwards. He is, as his shirt suggests, a number eight not an anchorman.
When Roberto Firmino was rested with 22 minutes left, Keita moved into the front three from the left. He looks like he will create plenty and get chances of his own, while willing to put in a robust tackle when necessary.
“He has settled really quick in a similar position and style of play to Leipzig,” said Klopp.
The contrast with West Ham’s laboured midfielders must have concerned Manuel Pellegrini.
For Jack Wilshere, especially, this was inauspicious start to reigniting his career. He looked a like a leggy veteran when compared to the dynamic Kop recruit.
Worryingly for the visitors, many of their players appeared exhausted long before the final whistle. That is not rare on the opening weekend, but the gulf in vibrancy and energy was apparent long before West Ham’s players had decided closing down and tackling a waste of time midway through the second half.
A harsher assessment is it looked like Pellegrini’s immediate impact was to experiment without any conditioning work in pre-season.
It was not entirely clear if they had come to Anfield to attack or repel. The away end inside Anfield swiftly emptied after substitute Daniel Sturridge nudged home the fourth on 88 minutes, no doubt grasping the sole positive they will not encounter an attack – or even a subs bench – with this level of ammunition every week.
In fairness to West Ham, they feared what was coming when Mane’s second goal – Liverpool’s third on 53 minutes – was given despite the striker being well offside when dispatching Firmino’s pass.
The Senegal striker had doubled Liverpool’s lead just before the interval after James Milner kept running as West Ham’s defenders waited for a linesman’s flag. A drilled cross was tapped in.
Liverpool were able to stroke the ball around in second gear for much of the second half. We will know in a few weeks if winning with such ease was due to their excellence or West Ham’s meekness. Pellegrini, who played five new signings, considered the margin of victory flattering.
“It was a tough game before, during and after the game. We knew it would be difficult,” he said.
“Liverpool deserved to win, but we had two or three chances to equalise and the third goals was a clear offside.”
In truth, the distance between the teams was reflected in the score. Klopp once more felt compelled to point out only so much can read into the victory.
“For sure West Ham will play a good season, but they are not United or City,” said the Liverpool manager.
If Klopp wants to maintain the spirit of caution as Kop hopes rise he can point out the last time Liverpool won by this margin 86 years ago, they finished 14thin the league.
We can guarantee they will be considerably higher this year. Nothing in this opening act will dissuade those believing, at the very least, they have the capacity to be Manchester City’s shadow.
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