There were glum faces everywhere you looked. Heads were shaking, curses were muttered but the undeniable emotion at the final whistle was disappointment – and nobody illustrated it more than Europe’s current number one player.
The man for whom that title belongs is Mohamed Salah. Liverpool’s Egyptian King scurried to the tunnel as Anfield caught its breath, consumed in thoughts about how his team had won a quite magnificent game of football twice, only to leave with a point.
This is Salah in a nutshell. At Brentford eight days earlier, he had reached 100 League goals for the club in third quickest time but his team-mates were conscious about going near him in the dressing room afterwards as he had squandered two gilt-edged chances to win the game.
Mohamed Salah (left) drove Liverpool back into the lead in their 2-2 draw with Manchester City
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp (right) will be desperate to keep hold of the exceptional frontman
‘We can’t be too harsh on him as he is harsh on himself,’ said Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. ‘He’s been outrageous since he’s been here. The figures he has got to are incredible. He dedicates his life to the game, makes sure he recovers and lives his life the right way and he gets his rewards.’
Not necessarily. Salah’s contract is running down and expires in June 2023. It is not panic stations at the moment but it seems remarkable that Liverpool would allow themselves to get into a position where one of the best to ever play for the club – for that is what he is – could depart for nothing.
If such phrases as ‘Europe’s number one player’ and ‘one of the best to play at Anfield’ have raised your eyebrows, we need to be absolutely clear here: this is not hyperbole. Salah has done some remarkable things in his four seasons at Anfield but this campaign has seen another lift in his output.
Salah is currently on a sequence of nine goals in seven matches. The only time he failed to score (August 21 in a 2-0 win over Burnley), he was the best player on the pitch and was only denied a goal by the intervention of VAR. This is finishing of the absolute highest standard.
Salah has scored nine times in seven matches – and even when he didn’t score, he was inspired
Had figures been relayed to you in relation to Robert Lewandowski or Erling Haaland or Lionel Messi, you would greet them with a reverential nod of the head but Salah, heaven knows why, doesn’t trigger the same feelings.
Is it because he used to go to ground too easily? Possibly. But even that penchant to be theatrical in the hope of getting penalties has been eradicated – so far – in this campaign. He’s also tracking back to help his defence now, another rough edge on his game that has been smoothed.
So, yes, Salah is the best in Europe as we speak. Without him, there is no title race and his side would have been well and truly beaten by Manchester City, who of these championship rivals are in the better form. As hard as it was for Liverpool to swallow, it would have been a travesty had Pep Guardiola and company headed back across the M62 with nothing to show for their efforts.
That they had to fight so hard was because Salah – in the second half, especially – played football that was out of this world. His assist to Sadio Mane for the goal that opened the scoring invited you to make comparisons with Messi (watch the little touch and body swerve again) but better was to come.
Liverpool supremo John Henry (centre) would do well to oversee a huge new contract for Salah
It was the 76th minute, to be precise. At the same end of the stadium in February 2018, Salah wrapped Tottenham’s defence up in knots after a dribble into the area preceded a unerring right-footed finish but what he did here was extraordinary.
Joao Cancelo, Phil Foden, Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva all looked like they had realised their wallets had been stolen by a pickpocket as Salah shuffled his feet, changed direction and then slammed a drive past Ederson that fizzed into the far corner.
All around the stadium, eyes were wide in disbelief. Only the best of the best produce like this when the stakes are so high and how Salah is producing. With each goal and performance of this standard, so things become a little tenser in terms of negotiating.
City equalised but Liverpool are title contenders again with the help of Salah’s superb record
Fenway Sports Group have historical cut their cloth accordingly, the mantra being they will spend what they earn but never bankrupt themselves. They walked into a financial wasteland 11 years and have no intention of ever jeopardising the future with expensive deals.
But if Liverpool wanted to replace Salah, what would it cost them? More money than they would ever pay in a transfer fee. They can’t be accused of being parsimony, having completed a raft of major contract extensions this summer, but they have got to be prepared to go big once more.
Salah, with his Golden boots, has done enough to warrant being paid the biggest contract in Liverpool’s history. The onus is now on the men who balance the books to make it happen. Allowing someone else to profit from his genius would be sabotage.