Liverpool blast past Red Star Belgrade as Mohamed Salah grabs landmark goal
By Jason Burt, Chief Football Correspondent
24 October 2018 • 11:18pm
Mohamed Salah scored twice, to reach a history-making 50 goals for Liverpool, Roberto Firmino also struck, as did Sadio Mane, but there may now be a ‘fab four’ again at Anfield.
Liverpool predictably overwhelmed Red Star Belgrade, as they needed to, and it was also predictably Salah who claimed the headlines as the Reds’ star. But it was Xherdan Shaqiri who created the copy. He was the author, the imaginative force at the heart of their performance.
The Swiss is fast becoming a man they cannot do without as he plays his way from super-sub to super addition in a team that, for all its attacking threat, has never quite filled the subtle gap left by Philippe Coutinho. Maybe now they have.
Shaqiri was substituted on 68 minutes to a deserved standing ovation, as was Salah soon after - the forward having claimed the goals which means no other Liverpool player has reached a half-century quicker. He broke the record set by Albert Stubbins, who achieved that feat in a dozen games more in the post-war years.
In more recent times the fastest to 50, before Salah, was Fernando Torres in 84 matches. Daniel Sturridge did it in 87 appearances. The Egyptian king has made rapid, regal progress at Liverpool.
This result, coupled with Paris Saint-Germain’s late draw at home to Napoli, means that Liverpool top Group C at the half-way stage. They will travel to Belgrade hoping to maintain that position but knowing it will be a far more demanding, hostile occasion. There were no away fans here as the Serbian champions were banned from selling tickets after incidents during their play-off tie away to RB Salzburg in August.
Having lost away in Naples, in what is shaping up to be the toughest of three-horse races in the group stages, Liverpool knew there was no margin for error. But with Anfield struck by an electricity problem off the pitch, which affected the main stand, full power was restored on it.
This was the first time, in fact, that Salah, Firmino and Mane have all scored for Liverpool in the same game this season, having done so eight times in the last campaign. There could have been even more goals, and hopefully Liverpool will not rue failing to boost their goal difference even further, with Mane missing a penalty and Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan – who superbly saved that spot-kick – pulling off a series of saves.
Nevertheless, the emphatic scoreline means that Liverpool have scored 48 times in the Champions League since the start of last season which, to put in context, is 10 more than the next highest scorers, the holders Real Madrid. Both Salah and Firmino also now have 13 European Cup goals for Liverpool – only Ian Rush (14) and Steven Gerrard (30) have more.
There was more good news with another clean sheet for goalkeeper Alisson (seven in 12 games), another imperious performance from Joe Gomez and, most encouragingly of all, a dominant display by Fabinho who was making only his second start since his £43.7million move from Monaco last summer and who made 80 passes and won nine tackles.
And yet Liverpool's captain for the night, Virgil van Dijk, was right when he admitted there was a “lot of chaos” at the beginning with a strange atmosphere and a slack performance which was jolted into life by Shaqiri. Once again from that deeper midfield role that is proving so profitable, he instigated the move by winning the ball back and also provided its golden moment when he slid a weight-perfect pass through for Andrew Robertson to run onto. Beyond the Red Star right-back Filip Stojkovic, Robertson cut the ball across goal for Firmino to take a touch, a second touch and from the penalty spot slam a left-footed shot past Borjan before running off to reprise his new ‘eye-patch’ celebration.
Shaqiri had already created a clear chance for Salah with a less-skilled intervention – a high hook over the defence which the striker tried to take around Borjan only for him to smother – but contributed again just before half-time with a lovely touch. It came as Georginio Wijnaldum, an impressive midfield force alongside Fabinho in a rejigged 4-2-3-1 formation, played the ball into him and Shaqiri cushioned it into the path of Salah. Playing at the tip of the attack, he pierced the Red Star defence and thumped his shot past Borjan.
It was game over before, into the second-half, there came two penalties. The first was hotly contested by Red Star with Mane going down, clutching his face, after being caught by Stojkovic with an outstretched arm. German referee Daniel Siebert hesitated before pointing to the spot with the Serbians furious, claiming with some justification that Mane had over-reacted and the defender’s arm had only touched his chest. Nevertheless, Salah took the kick and steered it powerfully over Borjan as he dived to his left.
When Liverpool were awarded a second penalty Salah was denied a hat-trick. He had already been substituted. This time it was given for a handball by El Fardou Ben Nabouhane, from a Liverpool free-kick, and Mane stepped up to strike a strong effort that Borjan excelled in tipping up onto the cross-bar. The rebound fell to Mane but he was crowded out.
Even so, Mane finally did get his goal as he was picked out by substitute Daniel Sturridge across the face of the area as Liverpool poured forward again, taking a touch before stabbing the ball low past Borjan.
There was a flurry of chances after that with Borjan denying another substitute, Adam Lallana, as he ran through, and turning away Sturridge’s shot before Mane struck the side-netting. Liverpool settled for four and, maybe, a new ‘fab four’.
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